I am going to take a quick stab at the problem of pain. If you are struggling with some immediate pain right now, please forgive this post. This is not intended to deal with that scenario. There are no trite clichés to deal with this. I am writing this to help me make sense of life.
I do not fully understand everything. However, it is really easy to look around and see the pain and suffering of others and think “That is not fair.” It is normal to wonder why bad things happen from time to time. We may even wonder why some of the pain that we experience is worse than others. Why was one person born with a full house and another born with a pair of twos? The answer is, “I don’t know?”
I am going to take a step back from this issue briefly and discuss God’s character. We must first answer the question, “What is at the center of God’s character?” This question is answered for us in 1 John 4:8, “…God is love.” Keep in mind here that this is not saying that God loves (which is also true), but that God is love. God’s beingness (if that is a word) is love. God has other qualities for sure, but this one seems to drive the bus.
His love compels Him to seek our loyalty instead of forcing it. No one would say that someone loves me, if I force them to do so. Love must be a choice in order for it to be legitimate. Think if you got married to your spouse because, well she had to. It was written in her contract. For sure marriages were arranged like this at one time, but not now. No one in our modern western world wants a spouse who had to marry them. That would not be real love. (As a side note, what draws most of us together in marriage is not love either - it is typically self seeking lust.)
The only way that He can give us freedom to seek Him is by giving us freedom to not seek Him. Thus, the opportunity for sin arises. God did not invent sin. Sin is humanity’s desire to seek other things besides God. It is our abuse of freedom that has caused sin. This abuse had and continues to have terrible consequences. God will not subvert his character. We know from 2 Pet 3:9 that God wishes that all would come to repentance. However, this desire does not overcome His core character trait of love. Thus, sin enters into the world and grows. Creation bears the strain of sin. We see this in all the natural calamities and sicknesses. Human character bears the stain of sin. We see this in all the perversions of God’s original designs for humanity.
Because of this bad things happen. God does seem to intervene sometimes and other times He does not. I do not know why this happens; I only know that it does. One person’s prayer is answered and another’s is not. For a number of reasons, I firmly reject over simplistic notions of praying with faith.
This even seems strange to write, but it is God’s great love for us that allows our actions to have consequences. To some people this is almost paradoxical. Consider the notion of “tough love.” Sometimes people have to feel the full weight of their bad decisions to understand its effects. It is God’s love for us that drives this. He could come in at any time and save everything and everyone. He cares too much for us to force Himself on us.
Romans 8:28 states that, “All things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” Did you notice that, all things work for good for those that love Him? At the end of the process is where God always subverts human intention. God will not subvert our will, but he can and will subvert the effects of our will when we love him. Joseph’s brothers meant to harm and kill him. God meant for him to save his family from starvation. Joseph even says this as he realizes God’s design for his life. It had a greater meaning than just random suffering.
This is absolutely essential. We see things in such a temporal way. God sees the bigger design. The worst thing that can happen is for there to be suffering for no purpose. Without God, suffering has no redemptive power. With God, even the worst situation will be made glorious. How is that possible and is it worth it? Consider all the testimonies you have heard. I love it when God takes the broken manure piles of our lives and plants a beautiful garden. The point is not that bad things happen to us. The point is that those bad things have meaning beyond what we could ever hope for.
God subverts the desire for destruction that others have for us. Some people do seek to destroy. Consider that way God used Pharaoh’s desires to accomplish His will. Consider how the religious leaders’ desire was subverted to accomplish God’s design for Jesus life. Consider how the death of Stephen and the scattering of the church did not destroy the church, it GREW it. All things work for good.
The pain is not the worst thing. Pointless pain is. If we love God, there is no pointless pain. One of my concerns has always been that I would lead an insignificant life. I want my life to mean something. I do not mean that I have to be famous; I just want to have lived for something greater than self preservation. I want the pain to have a point. Loving God brings what nothing else can: significance. God’s love subverts the consequences of human sinfulness. In Christ, there is no nihilism. In fact, all things are un-nihilistic. In him all things have meaning. Our lives are consequential.
It starts and ends with God being love. Love drove Jesus to the cross. His love drives me to follow him. Love brings beauty when there was nothing beautiful. Love is the reason why there is hurt and pain. Love calls us into relationship with trust and loyalty. Love endures when the way seems cloudy and strange. Love makes every step firm and purposeful. Love drives fear and despair away. Thank you for God who is the perfect embodiment of love. Thank you for God is love.