Several months ago I was contemplating this very question—again. My sister had just had her gallbladder removed and was having a horrible recovery. As one not a stranger to suffering (stay tuned for examples,) I have considered this question before.
As I thought about it in relation to people that believe in God, I came up with only five options that seemed viable to me.
Option one is that God doesn’t know about our problems. This is quickly dispelled; it seems that most people who believe in God believe that He is all knowing. As 1 John 3:20b tells us, “…God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything.”
Option two, I thought, is that He knows our problems but can’t do anything about it. This can also be quickly dismissed when we think about how He made the world out of nothing, parted the Red Sea, and raised Lazarus from the dead. Actually, we can think of so many different miracles He has done and realize that He can do anything He wants to do. We know “…with God all things are possible,” (Matt 19:26b).
The third option for me was that God is cruel; He actually likes to see us suffer. Then I thought of God as a father. That stopped me short because I am a parent also and I know that I would do literally anything to keep my kids from suffering. If broken and sinful me as a parent thinks like this, then how much purer and better is God’s love for his children? God does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow according to Lamentations 3:33.
Marching on. Option four would be that God just doesn’t care. This one caused me to pause and think because—being completely honest—sometimes it seems like this is true. When life gets hard, I can truly wonder if God cares. As I pondered this option, a verse I learned in childhood popped into my mind—“Give all your worries to God for He cares about you,” (1 Peter 5:7). Well okay, so there is one form of proof (and, of course, there are many more) that He does actually care.
This led me to my final option—number five. If God knows all, can do anything, is not cruel, and cares about us, then why would He allow suffering in our lives? He must actually have a purpose in it. It must be His plan to use hard things to refine us and grow us even though we don’t get it and can’t understand. ““As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:9).
No, this doesn’t make the pain stop or the hurts go away, but to me as I thought these options through and then landed on option five, it somehow made it more okay. I felt less alone in the pain after considering all of this.
Suffering is on a spectrum. I’m not sure how you would rate a bad recovery from surgery like my sister had, but I can tell you that in my life if we used a scale of 1 to 10, I have definitely had some sufferings that are 10s.
When I was 18, I watched my mother die of cancer. I have a son that was born with autism. My husband and I have a baby in heaven, and I am in the midst of raising teenagers and have been blindsided by the challenges that brings. As a therapist, I have sat across from and wept with clients who have sufferings that on that same scale would rate a 72!
And in all of it I can say that these are the five options, or some form of them, that always seem to surface as to why God would allow pain. Furthermore, landing on option five, when NOT used (and this is important) as a trite answer or a quick fix, brings comfort.
While these observations probably haven’t been new revelations, I hope they can offer you some security, like they did for me, and make whatever you are going through a little more bearable.
Laurel Boyd, MA, LMFTA , is a marriage and family therapist, treating drug and alcohol addictions at Summit Counseling of First Baptist Church Jackson. She can be reached at 601.949.1949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.