The $64,000 question: Why does God allow suffering?

God, I am hurting today. It hurts bad. Why do I need to hurt? Please make it stop.
Have you ever said those words to the Almighty? I suspect we have all said some version of that prayer, if not about ourselves, then about a loved one, friend, coworker or victims of a senseless crime or natural disaster. Lets face it, no matter how joyfully we live our lives, there is pain in this world, a lot of it. People get hurt who have not done anything wrong. The innocent pay. And we ask our God, who is love, why?

The frustrating thing is that, while I have had many prayers answered in my life, they are seldom the ones I ask in the midst of agony. Those times when you would seem to need God the most, when you are flat on your face begging for relief, are the times that the door to heaven seems to be closed tightly, the windows are dark and no one is answering the bell. Why?

When Job, the Bible’s poster child of suffering and injustice, asked God, what he received in reply was a strongly-worded, “I am God; what’s your next question?” From Job until today, humanity has never been satisfied with that answer. And we have never divined a more complete answer to this question.

Is it that God does not answer the question, or could it be that He knows there is no answer that would satisfy us? While we are in our pain we are deep within ourselves and not willing or able to understand a universe-size, eternity-long “big picture.” We want the pain to go away, we don’t want to understand why the pain is necessary.

My two year old granddaughter taught me this. A few days ago, she was staying with us while her mom and dad were out of town. She was upset at the breakfast table, and no cajoling, stern commands or threats of lost privileges would get her to eat. The situation deteriorated, as situations with toddlers do. Finally, she cried in woeful honesty, “I want something,” but when asked what she wanted, she would only repeat, “I want something.” She didn’t know what she wanted, she just wanted her unhappiness to go away.

Us “big people” may think we are not like that, that we know what we want, particularly during times of pain. But is our understanding of our own wants and, more importantly, our needs better than our Eternal Abba’s? Aren’t we after all as simple as my granddaughter in God’s eyes? We see with human eyes; our vision of eternity is veiled. We feel human hurts and we see human injustice, but we can’t comprehend eternal justice or the balance scale that God uses.

Think about world politics, economics, or the environment. Would you say humans have done a good job balancing the wants and needs of our world? Any of them? Is your own world “in balance”? Are we really fit to judge when suffering is unnecessary?
There was no way to console my granddaughter with dietary logic, philosophy or discipline. The only thing that made any difference was holding her in my arms, and assuring her that she was loved, until the pain went away.

Suffering will come again. We will cry out in pain, in anger, or in confusion. “God, why? Please make it stop.” Perhaps that prayer will be answered for you right at that moment. But if not, take a lesson from my granddaughter. Accept that there are some things that you can’t understand, and then allow yourself to be cuddled by an eternal Father who loves you and wants what is best for you and for all his children.

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