The last several months have been difficult and stressful in our family and many of the families that we know. And last week saw such great loss of life in that devastating Haitian earthquake. It seems that we are surrounded on all sides by suffering, and naturally we find ourselves looking for answers and reasons. Last week even found one prominent religious leader blaming the disaster in Haiti on a “pact with Satan,” implying that this was God‘s punishment upon the Haitian people, or that God had somehow turned God‘s back on them.
We find such comments appalling in the light of such loss, but the underlying attitude is actually more common than we think. I‘ve heard it many times in my life. The most memorable time occurred during my teen years after a tragic sports accident left me fighting for my life. Well meaning adults would say things like, “I‘m sure God had a reason for this…,” or “You know God never places anything on our shoulders that we can‘t handle.” One close family friend even suggested to my father that this was a sign that he needed to clean up his life, that my suffering must be related to something in my parent‘s spiritual lives. All these comments have two things in common…they place blame for life‘s troubles and woe‘s on God, and they are un-biblical. In addition to that, they encouraged me to turn away from God in anger instead of toward God for help.
Scripture is clear that the broken world in which we live is not what God wants or intended. In the book of Job, the testing of God‘s servant is not God‘s handiwork, but that of Satan. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul suggests that his pain is the work of Satan, not as punishment but as a way to keep him from God. Several times in scripture it is made clear that pain and suffering are not the tools of God, but the unfortunate side effects of living in a broken world. Bad things happen to everyone, but not because God is punishing anyone. Such thinking turns people away from God and out of the Church.
Scripture proclaims that God isn‘t responsible for the pain, but will help us overcome and use it for great good. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 12 to describe how he prayed for God to remove his suffering, only to be told ” My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Our God is not placing trials around us as punishment, tests of faith or even as tools of evangelism. The Bible does not say that “God will never give us more than we can bear,” ‖it says that no matter what life throws our way, God‘s grace “will be sufficient for you.” That is a HUGE difference. We don‘t have a God who causes our suffering, but a God who seeks to help us overcome the suffering that living in a broken world brings.
One of my seminary professors used to say about such things, “God is gonna have a lot of explaining to do when I see Him in heaven.” The “why” question can never fully be answered in this life. But of this I am sure, when ANYONE suffers in this world…God suffers with them.