You’ve asked the question, haven’t you?
Maybe only in your head. Maybe to a trusted friend. Or maybe even out loud in a moment of desperate anguish to God himself.
I hear you, friend. See, we all know the world is broken. We understand it’s unlikely that we’ll cruise through life without a few bumps along the way.
Maybe you’ve experienced the sadness of a bad breakup, the disappointment of not getting the job, or the confusion of growing distant from an old friend.
But often, “pain and suffering”—the deep, raw, nothing-will-ever-be-the-same-again kind of hurt—is an abstract idea.
Until it’s not.
Until a husband tragically loses a battle with cancer in his early 40s, leaving his wife to raise her two young children alone.
Until the woman who finally became pregnant on her second round of IVF loses that baby to miscarriage.
Until the child is born with a rare condition, causing debilitating skin lesions all over his body, his parents powerless to take away his agony as they care for him every day.
Sometimes these tragedies don’t even happen directly to us but to people around us. And yet we can still feel broken. Confused. Angry.
And above all else, we just want to know why. And for Christians, the question of why gets even harder.
How can a loving, good God let this happen?
That paradoxical question often leads us to two possible conclusions, neither of which we would dare say out loud: Either God’s not in control, or He’s not good.
In our heart of hearts, we want to believe He’s in control. And we want to believe He’s good. But the pain and suffering in our own lives and in the world around us whisper to us that one of those things can be true, but not both.
So, for the Christian, why is really a two-part question:
So, let’s tackle the first part.
Did God do this?
Did God cause this pain and suffering? Did God inflict you with this misery?
Yes and no.
So simple, right?
The truth is that God’s sovereignty is a deep mystery that can keep scholars and theologians busy for a lifetime. I’m not going to be able to do this topic justice in a quick blog post. But if we head straight to the source—God’s very own Word—we can still learn a few critical things.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change [emphasis added].”(Jm. 1:17 ESV)
So, first, we learn that our Father gives us good gifts. And not just good, but perfect gifts. No one else can give these gifts—only Him. Any other gift from anyone or anything else in all of creation will be tainted.
But not with God.
His gifts are good and perfect. And His goodness is constant. He only gives us good gifts.
We don’t have to worry about “which God we’re getting today”, what mood He’s in, or if something we said or did has made Him love us less. Dark clouds may have obscured our vision for a season or we ourselves may have turned such that we can’t see it right now, but God’s goodness shines as bright as it always has.
He is always good.
“Or which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him [emphasis added]!”Matt. 7:9-11 ESV
The second thing we learn is that God knows what is good for us. He only gives good gifts, and so He knows what gifts are good.
Don’t miss that. It’s incredibly important.
He knows what gifts are good.
He knows. We usually don’t.
Cancer is not good. Infertility is not good. Heart disease is not good. Genetic mutations are not good. Learning disabilities are not good. Depression is not good. Death is not good.
We largely see it as black and white—simple categories of good and bad.
But God’s ways are bigger than that. He doesn’t operate in a vacuum of black and white simple sentences.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways [emphasis added]…”Is. 55:8-9 ESV
Is it His revealed will to give you brokenness, sickness, darkness, and death? No. His revealed will is His word, and in His word, we come to know our Father’s heart and what is pleasing to Him.
And it’s not brokenness, sickness, darkness, and death. It’s just not.
But is it within his sovereign will? Yes.
I know that’s hard to swallow. And not just hard, but downright confusing. There are some fantastic resources out there if you want to really take a deep dive into this idea of God’s sovereign (or hidden) will vs. His revealed will, and I’ll provide some links down below.
But the main idea here is this:
“…not everything that God ordains in His hidden will is in itself pleasing to Him. … He hates the evils He ordains, but He ordains them in order to overcome evil and achieve a greater good that does please Him [emphasis added]. (Rom. 8:28)”Ligonier Ministries
In other words, if our good Father God allows it to happen, then it’s going to be used for our good and His glory.
And that leads into part two of our why…
How can this possibly be for good?
Because our God is the God of the impossible. (Luk. 1:37, Jer. 32:27)
It’s one thing to bring good out of things that are already good. Honestly, that’s probably pretty easy.
But the God I serve brings good out of evil. He brings light out of darkness. He brings life out of death.
And He brought the greatest good out of the darkest moment in history: the brutal crucifixion of His only Son, Jesus.
So I trust that God. When His word says, “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 ESV) and “…for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom. 8:28 ESV), I believe Him.
It’s our definition of “good” that’s often wrong—not God’s. We’re too limited. Too finite. Too narrow.
In times of deep pain, we’re too often focused on what we’re losing or what we have less of.
But the truth is that in our suffering, we have an unmatched opportunity for more. We become more dependent on the Father. More humble. More compassionate. More eternal.
More like Jesus.
And that is God’s ultimate good.
“And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”2 Cor. 3:18 NIV
God has more for us than to simply take away what ails us in this life. He wants to give us everything in Himself for eternity.
“We view our slight, short-lived troubles in the light of eternity. We see our difficulties as the substance that produces for us an eternal, weighty glory far beyond all comparison, because we don’t focus our attention on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but the unseen realm is eternal.”2 Cor. 4:17-18 TPT
And so we continue our walk by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). No matter how dark it seems. No matter how much it hurts. No matter how much we don’t understand.
Because we know that there will be good. Not because of anything we see, but because of who He is.
And honestly, we may never get the answer to some of our whys.
But it won’t matter. God is going to pour out full, immeasurable, and eternal blessings in abundance, and all the things of old—including our questions, pain, and suffering—will pass away (Matt. 24:35). God’s promises alone will remain, and we will be made new in Him.
Thanks, But No Thanks
The last thing I’ll say is that I know for many of you, this post seems like cold comfort.
You want to believe that God is good, and that He’s working, and that His eternal purposes are so much better.
But you can barely see far enough in front of you to know how you’re going to make it through another dark, sleepless night, let alone to eternity. Your vision is so clouded with raw wounds that everything I’ve said here still doesn’t sound like good news.
You know the truth of eternal hope the way you know other facts: Man has walked on the moon, living in America is great, and your body and brain talk to each other.
You know these facts. They’re true, but they don’t seem all that amazing or relevant. They’ve become dull.
Until you sit with them.
Man has traveled 238,900 miles through -455°F darkness in a tiny vessel at 2,000+ miles per hour, to land on a huge sphere that stabilizes the earth’s axis such that we experience seasons and climate moderation to keep us alive.
Just by being born in America—something you literally had no control over—you are earning at least 10x more than the typical person in the rest of the world and you are likely ranking in the top 10% of the world’s income distribution.
Your body sends tiny electric pulses through your nervous system to communicate with your brain, this squishy mass in your head that contains neurons and stem cells and blood vessels that make up every memory you’ve made, every thought you have, and every emotion you experience.
Sit with God. Look at this truth with fresh eyes. Let Him work in your pain and He will show you why His promises are still amazing and very, very relevant.
Fix your eyes on the eternal hope He offers, and He will meet you there.
“…The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.”Ps. 30:5 MSG
For further reading:
The Will of God – Ligonier Ministries
Are There Two Wills in God – John Piper
The Will of God – R.C. Sproul