Why does God allow children to get cancer? Why does He allow innocent people to be murdered in drive-by shootings? Why are good people sometimes killed in car accidents? Why doesn't God always answer prayers? Why can it seem that God is ignoring us when we're trapped in the pit of despair? What do we do when God just doesn't seem to make sense?
ow can we trust God when many times we just don't understand what He's doing? Have you ever felt that way?
Most people claim to believe in a Supreme Being, with their ideas about God shaped by the Bible. It teaches that God is loving, all-powerful and able to be everywhere at the same time.
Yet at times those who believe in God find themselves in situations that don't seem to make sense. Why doesn't God intervene in a personal crisis? Why is a young person allowed to suffer an untimely death? Have we been left in the dark to work this out for ourselves?
Every human being desires a purpose in his or her life—a reason for existence. We all possess an emotional necessity to believe that we have value and that there is meaning in suffering.
These needs originate in an inherent deep-seated hunger for God. We try to fill that hunger with careers, wealth, sex, drugs, social crusades, the newest pop psychology theory and all kinds of other pursuits, but the hunger still exists. This hunger can't be satisfied until we recognize that we were created to have a relationship with our Creator.
Why doesn't God always answer prayer?
One of the remarkable gifts the Creator has given human beings is free will. We have self-consciousness, creativity, emotions and the ability to reason and make choices.
This freedom to make choices is one reason the world is in such a mess. Human history is a catalog of failed experiments involving governments, religions and philosophies that have promised happiness, peace and prosperity for everyone. The missing ingredient in all of these experiments is the way of life designed by the Creator of life.
It's not that God doesn't want to be involved—it's that most of the time we don't invite Him to be involved. Each of us labors under the belief that "I can do it my way" and make life work. Regrettably, we seldom stop to ask, "Is this really working?"
We can talk with God anytime, but a quirk of human nature is that if we don't get an immediate and positive answer, we conclude He didn't respond to our prayer.
When God doesn't seem to respond to our prayers, we need to ask ourselves whether we have separated ourselves from Him by our actions and choices. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says: "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save . . . but your iniquities have separated you from your God . . ." (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Sometimes we need to evaluate our own humility before the Creator of the universe. He's not the proverbial genie in a bottle granting wishes to those who perform the right incantations. Far too many approach God with a flippant, disrespectful attitude and wonder why He doesn't respond.
Jesus said that if we have faith, then we can ask God to move mountains and He will cast them into the sea. It's safe to say that God doesn't want Christians going around throwing all the mountains into the sea. One of the most difficult aspects of having free will is having enough trust in God to say, "Your will be done." We must have confidence that God has our best interests at heart.
Sometimes God's answer isn't what we want
Sometimes we have to accept that God's answer is "no" or "wait." Any adult understands that "wait" is a wise response to a 5-year-old boy's request for a pocketknife even though "wait" seems arbitrary, even cruel, to the child because of his limited reasoning ability.
Anyone who works with children has tried to explain a simple concept only to be asked repeatedly, "Why?" No matter how many times you change your wording, talk slower or raise your voice, sometimes a child just can't understand the reality an adult perceives.
It's the same way between God and us. He sees a bigger picture of life. He understands our personalities, our weaknesses and our anxieties, and He certainly cares about our ultimate good. But with our limited minds we keep asking, "But why, Daddy?" At some point we have to trust that Daddy knows what He's doing.
Due to our limitations as human beings, there will be times when God seems beyond our reach. It is haunting to consider Jesus' exclamation, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). It's hard to imagine the Son of God experiencing that level of despair.
Yet in that statement we can find comfort. Christ, who now sits in heaven at the right hand of the Father, knows what it's like to feel estranged from the Majesty and Power of the universe. He experienced what it is to be human.
In that way Christ's intercession is more than a legal action of taking our sins on Himself. It involves a personal relationship with us. Because of Christ's intercession, we can ask God for what the apostle Paul calls the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). We may not always be able to understand what God is doing, but we can experience inner peace and confidence in what He is doing.
People confused by Jesus
Jesus had a special relationship with a man from Bethany named Lazarus. John 11 records how Jesus was teaching in another town when messengers arrived to inform Him that Lazarus was very ill. Jesus then did something that seems to make no sense—instead of rushing to the side of His sick friend, He stayed where He was for two days. In fact, He deliberately waited until Lazarus died before going to Bethany.
Imagine the thoughts that went through the minds of Christ's disciples. He performed miracles wherever He went, but now He deliberately delayed going to His seriously ill friend.
Jesus arrived in Bethany and was confronted by Martha, Lazarus' sister. She was perplexed by Jesus' delay. His actions toward His friend just didn't make any sense. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (verse 21).
Mary, Lazarus' other sister, was also perplexed by Jesus' delay and asked Him why He didn't come sooner. Jesus became so overwhelmed by the grief of those around Him that He wept.
Jesus then went to Lazarus' tomb and prayed for God to resurrect Lazarus from the dead as proof that Jesus was the Messiah. Lazarus came walking from the tomb, wrapped in his burial clothes, like some mummy in an old movie.
Lazarus' death had been allowed by God as part of a greater plan to reveal His Son. Of course, there was no way for friends and family to understand this during the crisis. God's picture was much bigger than their immediate difficulties. And therein lies the dilemma: Human beings must trust in God's bigger plan even though we can't always see it.
Life is like putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. We have to trust that eventually all the pieces will fit together to create the picture on the cover of the box.
God's help in times of despair
Our predicament originates in a simple concept. Human beings were made in the image of God. Sin is any action, thought or emotion that differs from how the Creator designed life. Once sin enters into our experience, our emotions and thoughts become twisted. The result is suffering, broken relationships, meaningless lives and eventual death.
The gospel is the message of how God sent His Son to take our sins on Himself and receive the penalty we deserve. But that isn't all there is to the gospel. Human beings are an incomplete creation. We have to be prepared for eternity. Eternity arrives when Christ returns a second time to resurrect the dead and establish His Father's Kingdom on earth.
Understanding why our lives got into such a mess and how God has a plan to get us out of it is the beginning of seeing that bigger picture. We have to accept that our emotions and thought processes are damaged. Then we can begin to seek God's help in being healed.
This includes living the way of life outlined in the Bible. Healing is more than going to a physician. You must also put into action the changes needed for getting well.
This healing includes accepting God's love and the incredible future He has in store for those who are willing to let Him be involved in their lives. Today we can begin, in a very limited way, to view our present sufferings in the tapestry of the Creator's plan for His creation, which includes Christ's second coming to fix the world in which we live.
Many times it is easier to heal human illness than to restore damaged human emotions. When faced with terrible loss, or a difficult time of life, first accept that it's okay to be human. Emotions like grief are a natural response to intense loss, not a lack of faith.
It's important to have a support group in times of crisis. You don't want to end up isolated. Most importantly, we need to be able to pour out our emotions to God. Write down what you are experiencing and read these intimate thoughts and feelings to God in prayer.
God isn't the cause of suffering, but He is the only solution. As beings with free will, we have the opportunity to explore every possible solution to the human condition. We continue to come up woefully short.
When we suffer, the outcome isn't usually as dramatic or immediate as it was for Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Remember, though, that during the dark days of Lazarus' illness and death they didn't know what the outcome would be.
All they had during those times of despair was a faith that God had not abandoned them and that Lazarus would someday be resurrected from the dead. Faith is more than belief in God. It is the trust that He is always acting for the ultimate, eternal good for every human being. It is the basis for hope in the future. GN