When I was in college, I took a class one semester on religious cults. The class was fairly small, and I knew almost everyone in there. Except there was a new girl. I had never seen her before, and she was very different than what I was used to seeing in my school. She wore all black, sometimes with spikes on her clothes, and she had many piercings. But what made her really different, causing her to stand out so starkly amongst my classmates, was her anger. In our class on religion, it was very clear that she was angry at God.
At first, I chose to ignore her. She was different, and it is always easier to ignore different when it makes us uncomfortable. But as the semester wore on, the Lord kept bringing her to my mind. She sat alone day in and day out, and she needed a friend. He wanted me to be that person, so finally, I befriended her. What I learned has stayed with me ever since.
She was an orphan of sorts, with one parent in prison for killing the other parent when she was much younger. She hailed from a small town in North Carolina, and everyone there knew of her family’s implosion. For years, she lived a miserable, painful existence under the care of an older sister and under the watchful eye of the state. While I had lived those same years in another state with my mom, my dad, and my siblings all happily living under one roof, she had faced a much different reality in this life.
We had many good discussions about God. My friend was extremely intelligent and well read, having searched for answers in the midst of her great pain and loss. I was firm in my faith as a Christ follower, and she was firm in her anger toward Him. We were friends, and I grew to love my friend deeply with the love of Christ, so we were able to talk about matters of faith with openness and honesty. She asked me a question one day that caused me to stop in my tracks. She said,
“You tell me that God loves me. You say that He sent Jesus to die for me. But look at my life. Look at my parents. How could God let this happen? No, how could a loving God let this happen?”
I didn’t have a great answer for my friend that night, but I think she forgave me. Honestly, there were absolutely no words I could have offered her that might have comforted her at that moment. We were mostly quiet, and I sat with her in her grief.
It’s extremely easy to talk about our convictions when we are amongst like-minded people. It’s even easier to proclaim the foundational truths of Christianity when we go unchallenged on those beliefs. But when we face situations like I did that night many years ago, we come to a moment where simply spouting out the truth won’t do. There must be a deeper and more meaningful answer to offer those who suffer in our midst, or even to offer ourselves when we face our own personal tragedies.
At issue when a person asks this question is the character of God. Has God acted out of character, betraying Himself by not being fully loving, kind, or just? In fact, looking at just my friend’s story, how is it fair that she lost both of her parents at a young age — one to murder and one to prison? Why did God allow it? How could He not stop such a horrendous tragedy from happening?
Truthfully, as I’ve said many times before, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think asking these questions is necessarily about finding the exact answers for which we are looking…not on this side of eternity, at least. What I mean is, if you’re wanting to know exactly why your mom died of a rare brain tumor or why your young child was killed in a hit-and-run, you might be disappointed in your search for an answer. Many have asked throughout the centuries, but heaven has been silent in giving those types of explanations (see Job 38-40). For instance, I won’t ever understand, on this side of eternity, exactly why my youngest has an extra chromosome knit into her DNA, but this also doesn’t mean I’m entirely without satisfying answers to my questions.
As I’ve considered this question and searched for answers, looking generally at the reality of human suffering and the action (or lack of action) of God on our behalf, here is where I have landed. First, I have arrived at a place of acknowledging that God has done something very loving and completely kind on our behalf. In fact, He has worked to resolve the issue of our greatest suffering: our sin problem. Before you tune me out, please keep reading to the end.
If you read the Bible in its entirety, you will discover that God has indeed been very active since the beginning of time at rectifying our great and damaging sin problem. Everything God has done to communicate with mankind has been to make known to us our sin problem and to draw us back to Him. The Old Covenant system of priestly sacrifices and outer cleansing, for instance, served the purpose of showing us that we cannot make things right on our own. We needed Someone to stand in our place. Hebrews 10:11-12 says it plainly:
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…”
There is no greater love than one who gives his very life to heal the wounds of another (John 15:13).
Second, I have arrived at a place of firmly believing that God is always, fully just, even as we face great injustices in this life. Many circumstances in this life run afoul of justice, and we can all agree that life is generally just not fair. Some are born to the gift of wealth that they will never appreciate, while others are born to the grip of poverty that they will never rise above. Some are born with gifts that allow them to succeed in everything they do in life, while others will continuously strive but never come out on top. Life in this world is tainted by sin. It is often cold and impartial, and we should never expect life to be fair.
But God, God is always just. This is the place where faith must enter the equation, because an orphan whose parents are either dead or imprisoned will certainly not feel that God has been just on his or her behalf. The parent whose child is facing a losing battle to leukemia will most certainly not feel that God’s justice is at work. The truth, however, is that He is just, and He is working out His justice in our midst. Some circumstances will see the fullness of His justice in our time, but others will require the fullness of time before His justice is completed.
Why does God tarry? Why has He not simply ended our suffering once and for all? Scripture does give us some answers. 2 Peter 3:9 explains, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The patience of the Lord is evidence of His great kindness and love, giving the time and opportunity for all to call on Him in repentance and salvation.
At the end of the day, we will not know the exact answers to why bad things have happened. However, we can know that God, in His great and unending love, has done something about it by first addressing our greatest problem — our sin problem. In time, we will also see His love and justice fully work out the great tragedies of life on our behalf.
How could a loving God let this happen? God is always loving and just, even when we experience the worst in life.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?’ For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:34-36