One of the questions pastors often encounter, whether directly or indirectly, is the dilemma of innocent suffering. That is, why do bad things happen to good people?
Now there are many ways to answer this question. The problem is that none of them are good, satisfactory, or perhaps even accurate for that matter.
You see, to me at least, the question may come from a place of arrogance. In other words, we presume that if we were in charge, we would do it better. As finite human beings, we should be careful to not presume to know God’s will or ways. One thing that is clear is that God did not intend to create a world machine whose sole purpose is the elimination of human suffering. Suffering is very much a part of our brief sojourn upon this planet.
And of course we all agree with this, until we are the ones undergoing the trials. At that point, we want to serve God, but in an advisory capacity.
Christian author C.S. Lewis, in a lecture to the Oxford Socratic Club in 1955, said, “If human life is in fact ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our real needs and of the way in which they can be satisfied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us far from beneficent and far from wise, and that it will be our highest prudence to give Him our confidence in spite of this.” Lewis explained that it is only natural that we would be confused as to the ways of God, but in the end we must trust His providence and love.
Similarly, Christian theologian J.I. Packer, wrote, “A god whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a god in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary god.”
To those who say, “God would have a lot more friends if He treated the ones He already has better,” I respond, “If God rescued those who are true to Jesus from every problem they encounter, Christians would not need faith. Their religion would be nothing more than an insurance policy, and there would be lines of selfish people ready to sign up.”
Perhaps what we could do when encountering trials is to consider how that trial can strengthen the most important relationship we have — with God. Only then, and with a view to the entirety of our life, will we be able to see what is truly “bad” and what is truly “good.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.