I think this is the main reason why people do not believe in God. Traditional Christians tend to explain the suffering due to our adversary the Devil, while others just call out sin as the cause for trouble. But why is there suffering if there is a loving God?
When I started out my journey to find answers to life’s question, I sure did ask the very same question. I knew there had to be more between heaven and earth. For me the vast diversity and beauty of nature itself puzzled me to reason coincidence.
As I entertained the possibility of an Almighty Creator God, the matter of pain and suffering was challenging.
At first I thought the fallen angels and their captain were responsible and as a man, being a warrior at heart, I felt a thrill in being set up for some kind of supernatural warfare between light and dark.
And it kind of explained that suffering came from the devil and not from God. But I have to admit, I did think from time to time that God used suffering to show us his reigning and destructive power. It was when life hit hard, that I started to think different about God.
In my early 20s one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer. Just a few years prior my believe in a redeeming, loving God was awakened and I had spent all my energy telling everybody about what I had found. However, no one would listen, nobody cared. And in fear of becoming the village idiot, I shut up.
“I remember vividly one night standing outside my friend’s house. Everybody was sad and traumatized and then out of the blue someone asked me; Where is your God?”
As my friend’s sickness progressed, I fell into despair. My thoughts and emotions were all over the place. I had to tell my friend about Jesus, because if he died, he would go to hell. This leaped ton of pressure on me because my time was running out.
What started as a little abnormality right above his elbow, turned everyday lives into hell on earth. Treatments weren’t working, prosthetics were not fitting and to make matters worse, the disease was taking ground more and more. Even the amputation of his entire arm could not stop the ravaging on this loving, caring, priceless individual.
I remember vividly one night standing outside my friend’s house. Everybody was sad and traumatized and then out of the blue someone asked me; Where is your God?
My heart broke. I had no greater power than anyone else and maybe I even felt more powerless than anyone else. I ran away into my own pain and sadness harboring even more self-hatred for abandoning my friend.
It was the summer of 2007 when I visited some relatives in France. The week prior I had met some friends downtown and was informed about my dying friend’s immense suffering and agony.
Not being able to take it any longer, that night I went out by myself, cried my eyes out over my friend and then pleaded to the heavens to make it stop. I had failed God, my friends, myself and I was willing to face the music for it. I would trade my life for that of my friend. I would give him my secured spot in heaven and descend into the pit, for eternity, as long as no one else I knew had to, especially my friend.
“I just crashed and burned right in that spot when she told me my friend had passed.”
Just as I had arrived in France, that night another friend me to tell me to come to say goodbye. Again my heart broke, I felt given a second chance to talk to my friend, but just as fast I couldn’t deliver because of the distance. You can imagine what kind of night I had. The next day somebody else called in the afternoon, as I was walking.
I just crashed and burned right in that spot when she told me my friend had passed. The grief just overwhelmed me, I ran away from everyone and everything and shouted out my pain while my tears blurred my view. I was ruined.
Then came the day of his funeral. Throughout the entire service I could restrain the waves of hurt and regret and sorrow that would keep burst out of my being. I was in shock, and I wasn’t even able to say goodbye. Not only was I retreating from him as he got sick more and more I wasn’t even there to make amends in his final moments.
The rawness of emotion and overwhelming feelings of failure and loss sort of numbed me to think about anything else, I couldn’t think of God, as I felt I had disappointed Him and neglected my responsibility to ‘save’ someone and I could not bear to think of my friend’s state; unaware, in heaven of in hell… But then, just as I felt completely alone in my failures, rejected by people and displeasing to God, something happened.
As we were progressing to the cemetery, we sang ‘Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone..’ all together as rain was pouring down. And as sure as morning, right when we came to the grave, the heavens opened and sun came bursting down on us.
It literally shattered my theology and all that I had believed about unbelievers, hell and even God. As I far as I knew, I was the only believer among all these people, how could this be? I felt gratitude that God would let my friend speak to his people once more through the sun. And was astonished that God was way bigger than I thought before. But how beautiful it was, it didn’t make the pain grow less, or make the loss feel less empty.
After the funeral I retreated, drove my car to a quiet place, I really wanted the pain to be less, and so I took some weed and smoked it, sitting against the back of my car, and the pain decreased a little. My thoughts slowed down and stopped spiraling downward.
It was then and there that I could no longer hold anything I learned about God and the bible and hell, valid. I was doing drugs aka sinning willfully against God, and out of nowhere this weight came over me. This deep deep feeling of warmth and peace saturated my being I could feel it radiate close around and within me. I had gotten high and drunk before but this was not natural. It was too big for me to be the result of substance and circumstance. It was God being my comforter as He said He would be.
Why the suffering? So that we may know Him. His true nature; love.
After that day my friend visited me at home in my dreams, twice. I could feel his peace and his joy was overflowing again. Explain that. I couldn’t. But it did introduce God as so good to me. He is willing to do anything, to make us feel His love.
You can understand that in the years that followed God showed me how the only hell mankind will ever know is a temporarily one here on earth, whether it’s loss, disease or any kind of slavery. And just like David said in one of his Psalms, even if I lay my bed in hell, you’ll be there.