By Bill Muelhenberg
No day passes without some tragedy or horrific case of suffering. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, hurricane Katrina, the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and a list of devastating wildfires and school shootings are just to name a few. And when these things happen, inevitably the questions arise: Why? Where was God? How could God allow this to happen?
I am not here going to shed any new light on the bigger issue of God and suffering. Entire libraries have been written on this, and we still do not have all the answers, and never will, this side of eternity. But a few points can be raised nonetheless.
God is not unconcerned about our situations, and regularly acts on our behalf. In the Bible we read of Israel's suffering where it says, "In all their distress He (God) too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So He turned and became their enemy and He Himself fought against them (Isaiah 63:9-10)."
Here we have a God who both cares for and acts on behalf of His people when they depend solely on Him. However, God is hurt and grieved when His people turn their back on Him. No other religious system offers us such a concerned and involved God. Many in fact present us with the opposite. Deism for example points to a God who created everything, but after that, has taken a hands-off approach to creation.
The God of Islam – Allah – is also remote, aloof, totally transcendent, and impervious to the claims of mere men. The idea of a personal relationship with Allah, of seeing him as a loving heavenly father, is of course totally unknown in Islam.
Only the Judeo-Christian portrait of God gives us what we need: a God who reigns completely over all of creation and is the all-powerful God, yet one who is also fully accessible and approachable, involved in our personal lives and responsive to our needs.
The whys of suffering and tragedy will never be fully answered in this life. But instead of a why we have a who. We have a personal God who is intimately concerned about us, and who will act on our behalf – not always in the way we expect perhaps, but when and where needed.
In his brand new book, A Reasonable Response, William Lane Craig cites another Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga.
He writes: "As the Christian sees things, God does not stand idly by, coolly observing the suffering of His creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering. He endures the anguish of seeing his Son consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross.
"God's capacity for suffering, I believe, is proportional to his greatness; it exceeds our capacity for suffering in the same measure as his capacity for knowledge exceeds ours. Christ was prepared to endure the agonies of hell itself; and God, the Lord of the universe, was prepared to endure the suffering consequent upon his Son's humiliation and death. He was prepared to accept this suffering in order to overcome sin, and death, and the evils that afflict our world, and to confer on us a life more glorious than we can imagine. So we don't know why God permits evil; we do know, however, that He was prepared to suffer on our behalf, to accept suffering of which we can form no conception."
Many people can and do disagree as to what extent, if any, God actually suffers, has emotions, and so on. The best way to get a proper handle on all this is to look at the cross.
Consider where the Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 8 verse 22, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?"
In this life suffering and tragedies will continue. But for the Christian, there is genuine hope: hope in a God who very much enters into our world of suffering. We also hold to God's promise that there will be a day when "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4)."
In the meantime we look to a suffering God – a God who cares deeply about us and acts on our behalf to draw people closer to Him and the peace He offers.