If you have kids, do you remember the phase of their asking incessantly that same question—WHY? Why does it rain? Why do I have a belly button? Why do I have to brush my teeth? But as we get older, we ask that same ‘Why?’ question from childhood, but reframed with adulthood issues: Why did my wife get cancer and die? Why didn’t I get that job? Why did I get fired? Why is the world so messed up? Why should I trust the Bible?
These are personal questions, and they’re hard questions. The challenge of trying to understand God and be a person of faith in a world of suffering and pain is called theodicy—from theos: God, dikē: judgment. This word, originating from Gottfried Leibniz, describes the attempt to vindicate God in response to the problem of evil or pain. Or, to use the words of Cappadocian Father, Gregory Nazianzus (d. 390), we are people with “faith seeking understanding.” We believe, but help us, Lord in our unbelief (Mark 9:24).
And who hasn’t raised the question? We all have. Why, God? “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psalm 42:9). “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24). “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?” (Psalm 74:11).
Some people, like Harold Kushner in his classic book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, take the approach that God simply isn’t capable of overcoming all evil. “If God can’t make my sickness go away, what good is he? Who needs him? God does not want you to be sick or crippled. He didn’t make you have this problem, and he doesn’t want you to go on having it, but He can’t make it go away. That is something which is too hard even for God” (129).
Too hard even for God. Is God weak, or does He have reasons beyond our understanding from withholding His power in our broken and fallen world? The beauty of the Christian faith, unlike any other religion in the world, is that God doesn’t answer the problem of suffering with a technique we can try, a philosophical explanation we can give, or a mystical experience we can have.
One of the great texts in the New Testament that gives us a divine answer to the problem of suffering is the shortest verse in the Bible. When Jesus’s close friend dies, He goes to the tomb, and the text simply says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
God walks with us in our pain. God enters our suffering through Jesus. For some reason, we tend to think of God as an absentee landlord, but He isn’t. He has entered our world so that we might enter His. Through the freedom He granted, our world has been corrupted, and one day He will right the wrongs and “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 21:4).
We believe in a suffering Savior who “endured the cross, scorning its shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Therefore, as Peter Kreeft writes, “God doesn’t give us a lot of words to answer the problem of suffering. According to Christianity, he gives us a single word, and his name is Jesus” (Metaxas, Socrates in the City, 55).
Thank You, Lord, that You didn’t send a philosopher to intellectualize our pain. Thank You that You didn’t send a theologian to theologize our pain. Thank You that You sent Your Son to embrace our pain. And we give thanks that one day our momentary affliction will give way to an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). In Jesus’ name. Amen.