Is God Good? The Challenge.
A woman I met at the abortion center angrily challenged my affirmation of the goodness of God. She had been raped at age 4 by a family friend. Her parents refused to bring that man to justice. The little girl learned that there was no justice for powerless, vulnerable people. Her parents claimed to be believers. They divorced not long after the rape and now the little girl experienced not only injustice but what felt like abandonment. Not surprisingly, as she grew up, she became involved with drugs and promiscuity.
Her mother, still professing to be a Christ follower, sent the teen off to a Christian rehabilitation center. The teen was deeply moved by church services while in rehab and submitted her life to the Lord. Within a week, one of the Christian leaders raped her. Neither the organization nor her parents believed her.
She sought legal emancipation, which she received, then moved away. She applied for several jobs, but faced rejection after rejection. Finally, she found work as a sex worker/dancer in a strip club a few hours away. The money was good but the work obviously fraught with danger. One night when in a private room with a “client,” she was drugged and then raped. A few weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant.
Despite her horror and despair, she could not abort the baby. When I met her, the woman said all trust of God or belief in His goodness was gone. How could God have allowed all these terrible things to happen to her? She knew some were the result of her poor choices, but not as a 4-year-old child. Not when she submitted her life to Christ and tried desperately to follow Him. Not when she tried to find reputable work with no success. Where was God? How on earth dare I talk about His goodness?
While this true story is certainly extreme, it is not a rare or isolated case. Many women we encounter at the abortion center have had lives filled with terrible role models, poverty, deprivation and struggle. I have heard many echo the same despairing cry: “If God is so good, why did He let all this happen to me?” I admit this is a hard question to answer. I know that a dismissive flippant assurance that God is good whether we see it or not is inadequate. We will face this issue if we minister long to wounded souls in front of abortion centers. How can we respond with tact, truth and tenderness?
Biblical Examples of Lives of Constant Suffering
One of the best biblical examples of God allowing ongoing suffering is found in the life of Jeremiah. The main thrust of his ministry was to warn God’s people of the coming judgment and the imminent Babylonian takeover.
The people of Judah who were the target of Jeremiah’s work, lived rebellious lives and disregarded both the Lord’s commandments and the increasing danger that resulted from their disobedience. He was the pessimist, who was in reality the realist. He was dismissed and ridiculed by false prophets who insisted that God would never let the city of Jerusalem fall to an invader.
First, Jeremiah faced constant ridicule and rejection. God Himself warned Jeremiah that this would happen: “You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (Jeremiah 7:27). Can you imagine being Jeremiah and told you are to go to a people who will refuse to listen or hear your warnings? Jeremiah served 40 years and the people apparently NEVER listened to him.
Jeremiah was also persecuted and mistreated by the very people he was called by God to help. He was beaten and put in the stocks in Jeremiah 20. The religious leaders decided they disliked his message so much that they said he should be given the death sentence in Jeremiah 26. When Jeremiah tried to convince the king of the truth of God’s word, the king burned Jeremiah’s scroll in Jeremiah 36. He was tossed in a cistern and left to die in Jeremiah 38. He was often called a liar. Why would God allow this to His faithful servant? Jeremiah never gave up, despite enormous suffering, foreshadowing the suffering and rejection Jesus Himself would face as He offered the only possible help for the world.
Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, grandson of King Saul. Mephibosheth had a life that was almost completely filled with danger, trauma and suffering. He was five years old when his father and grandfather were both killed at the Battle of Mount Gilboa. After their deaths, his nurse fled in a panic, fearing what would happen now to Mephibosheth and even her. She was frantic and dropped poor Mephibosheth, who sustained a crippling injury and would never walk again.
Though he was destined through the luck of his birth to inherit great riches as a grandson of the king, he was now crippled, an orphan and feared for his life since David had been hated and pursued by King Saul. However, in a surprising act of goodness, David sought someone of the house of Saul to whom he could show the kindness of God. Mephibosheth was brought to him, his inheritance was restored, and he was, from that time forward, to eat with the king and live in the palace in Jerusalem.
Beggar Crippled from Birth
Acts 3 tells the story of a man who was crippled from birth. The man spent his entire life from infancy to adulthood in complete dependence on others to care for his needs. Acts 3 describes how he was carried each day to a spot at the gate called Beautiful where his only manner of sustenance was to beg for alms. All his life, all he had known was a crippling disability, dependence on others, and no hope for a normal life, even of fending for himself through some sort of employment.
This dismal life of hopeless suffering went on until he saw Peter and John entering the temple. He asked as usual for charity, but Peter instead told him, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” Peter raised him to his feet and the man was instantly healed. His response was to walk, and then leap, and praise God.
Man Blind from Birth
In the Gospel of John 9: 1-12, Jesus encountered a man who had been blind from birth. We can surmise his life had not been a joyful one; not only from this terrible handicap but also the mindset of the people of his community. He spent his days begging, since that was the only occupation he could do to survive. Jesus’ own disciples asked who had sinned that this man was born blind, the parents or the man. If someone was handicapped, the common assumption was that it was punishment or the result of sin.
Jesus quickly debunked that misconception: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Job was a righteous man who had been greatly blessed by God for the first part of his life; however, Satan challenged God that Job was righteous only because God had been so good to him. He said that Job would ultimately curse God if God removed the hedge of protection. God agreed to let Satan go after Job, but not so far as to kill him. All else was fair game for Satan to attack.
At the hand of Satan, Job lost everything: his crops, his children and his health. His lovely wife told him the only solution was to “curse God and die.” Job refused to do that but then came perilously close to blasphemy. He questioned God and repeatedly insisted he didn’t deserve this treatment, didn’t understand it, and challenged God to explain.
God never answered Job’s questions for why He allowed Satan to do all those terrible things to Job. Instead, He asked Job a series of questions, which were intended to demonstrate the power of God and infinite, unfathomable wisdom of God that Job could not begin to grasp or mirror.
Is God Good in These Tragic Examples?
“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 and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8.9
In each of the stories above, the terrible circumstance was transitory. In each case, the struggles ultimately were rectified by some sort of intervention by God or the people of God. In each case, the terrible situations led to others coming to see and recognize the glory of God. In each case, the specific person’s suffering was certainly known by God, but a greater good than the happiness of the person was pre-eminent.
In each case, the person did ultimately receive a great reward.
Jeremiah suffered terribly, but his prophecies turned out to be true! His faithfulness in the face of continual rejection, suffering and apparent failure became a source of encouragement for Christ followers for centuries! Jeremiah became one of the prototypes of Jesus. The model of endurance, faithfulness, suffering and persevering to come to a point of victory is one to which we all can aspire. No one goes through life without valleys – sometimes, very deep and extensive valleys. Knowing the stories of those who have faced terrible struggles such as Jeremiah or Jesus Himself encourages and sustains us through those valleys.
Is God Good in Allowing Suffering?
Suffering Produces Joy
When we realize the purpose and positive results of suffering persecution, it can become a source of joy, as it was for Paul and Silas when they encountered opposition. In Acts 16:22–24, they were arrested, beaten and thrown into prison. Then we read, “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
If we can find joy in all circumstances, we can endure anything life throws at us. God is leading us all to that outcome. The only way that any of us can find joy in suffering is if we recognize there is a greater good than our ease and comfort. That greater good is, as Job discovered, the presence and glory of God Himself.
Jesus exemplifies that principle. Jesus’ agony on the cross was possible to endure because God saw the greatest good possible only being achieved by His death on the cross. The ultimate and unforeseen result was achieved through unbearable suffering: the reconciliation of all humankind with their creator.
Suffering Produces Rewards
“By faith Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time. He esteemed the reproach of Christ as greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24–26).
In all the sad cases of suffering saints listed in this article, there was a reward. Some saw the reward in this life, but those like Jeremiah or Moses in the verse above looked to a future reward. We may or may not see rewards or even sustained cessation of suffering until we reach heaven, but we ARE promised the reward will be great to those who faithfully endure and keep their eyes on Jesus.
Suffering Produces Understanding
Job, the blind man and the crippled man all came to a greater understanding and reverence for God as a result of their suffering. It was through their suffering and then God’s miraculous deliverance from their suffering that they began to understand the power and glory of God. It is very important to note that Job came to the humble realization of the grandeur of God BEFORE God restored his fortunes and family. Suffering can open our eyes to what truly matters in life in a way that nothing else can. Ultimately, what Job discovered was that everything he lost through the awful work of Satan was nothing compared to what he found in God.
Not only did their suffering bring each of them to a relationship and knowledge of God, but brought others as well. Jesus is clear that in some cases of suffering the goal is to glorify God and bring others to a saving knowledge of who He is.
How Can We Share the Gospel Effectively about God’s Goodness to Those Who are Suffering?
This is still a really hard question. However, thinking through the examples of those mentioned thus far, some possible strategies can be gleaned.
1. Don’t minimize the suffering but magnify the mission.
2. Direct attention from the suffering to the Savior.
3. Give Biblical evidence of God’s promises fulfilled.
4. Give Biblical stories of those who have suffered and endured who came to a place of peace, joy, and reward.
The Final and Ultimate Proof of the Goodness of God
In the end, the most convincing proof of the goodness of God was what Jesus did for every one of us in His tortuous death on the cross. Ultimately, the question of injustice and suffering of apparently innocent people such as my friend being raped at 4-years old has to be answered by what happened at the Cross.
Jesus, completely innocent of any sin, came to earth with one mission of infinite love- the saving of all of us through His willingness to pay the penalty for sin a righteous God required. He paid that penalty for us while we were yet sinners, rebellious, hateful, and defying and mocking His love and goodness.
Jesus alone can fully relate to the plight and horror of what happened to that 4-year-old. Innocent and unjustly accused, He showed the extent of God’s goodness in dying for not only those who sought His salvation, but also for those who nailed Him to the cross. This is a goodness that no one else could ever match.
It is at the cross that the goodness of God most powerfully resonates. God’s love looks nothing like what we would have expected. When Jesus hung on the cross, Satan thought he had killed God. He thought God’s power and reign ended there, but it had just begun! Our understanding and our view is so limited. We have to remember how our ways are not God’s ways in our “why” questions.
While the 4-year old experienced a gross miscarriage of justice, not only in the rape itself but in the cover-up following it. Jesus personally knows all about the miscarriage of justice as His tormentors mocked and scourged Him. But look at the result: The saving of humankind to all who trusted and turned to Him, believing and accepting what He did on their behalf that they could not do for themselves.
God will not be patient forever. His punishment of wickedness and injustice will not be delayed forever. However, His desire is that NONE should perish, knowing some will never submit their lives to Him. Nonetheless, He tarries with the goodness and love of a Father searching the horizon for the return of His prodigal sons and daughters.
“But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
“As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.”
Isaiah 53:10-12 NASB