Monday, April 15, 2013

The Problem of Pain

Do you ever feel that God cannot be trusted?

April, T.S. Eliot writes, in the cruelest month, but all days are cruel. There are bombings in Boston and in Tel Aviv. My uncle, or my co-worker’s friend, has cancer. I am midway through an unexpected financial crisis that may not end at all well.

Yes, I know my Bible. I know that the Bible assures me that even in the darkest times God can be trusted.  He is, the Psalmist writes, “the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” No matter what happens to us on this earth, no matter how bad it gets, God will still be there.

Unfortunately, this rings surprisingly hollow in the middle of tragedy.

Did you have your legs blown off in an explosion? Sorry, but it’s a good thing that God is your portion and not your legs.

Are you falsely accused of a crime? That’s really too bad. Good thing that it’s God and not your reputation which is the strength of your heart.

Are you poor? Struggling? Desperately lonely? No matter. You don’t have anything on this earth besides God anyway.

Shrug it off, advice says. Deal with it. God is waiting for you in Heaven.

The thing is, the teaching that God is our heavenly portion only goes so far. I know my Bible, and I know that he also promises that “no disaster will come near” you. He is the Good Shepherd, and he tells us that he will lead us among green pastures and quiet streams – places of rest, not of flurry.

This doesn’t happen. At all.

No matter how much we tell ourselves that God is our portion, that we will enjoy being with Him in Heaven, sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes it feels like God hurts us deeply.

Would an earthly father let his children be crushed if he could stop it? Yes, earthly fathers let their children deal with relatively minor problems all the time, but I’m not talking about a little peer pressure in high school here.  People die in violence every day. People’s whole lives are ruined every day. A good father would stop that if at all possible.

Yet God doesn’t. God lets us live through it.

Why do we trust Him? Is He even trustworthy? How can we trust a God that sent His own chosen people through the Holocaust?

I have no answer. Is there any answer?

Yet In her novel The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell, a convert to Judaism, writes this:

There's an old Jewish story that says in the beginning God was everywhere and everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove Himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist. So He breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists."

So God just leaves?

No. He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering."

Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine: Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it."

But the sparrow still falls.

Yes, the sparrow still falls. We still fall. Tragedy happens, and it is inescapable.

Perhaps there never will be an answer. Yes, the sparrow falls. God did not push him, but God did not stop him falling either. God will never stop tragedy from entering our lives. He won’t. He never has.

The only thing that we can do in such circumstances is what God does: We can weep.

Enough with the preaching that God will protect us. Enough with the preaching that God will  comfort us in the middle of tragedy.  I am in the middle of tragedy, and there is little comfort.

All we can do is what we know – we know, whether from Judaic tradition or our own Scripture – that God does: weep.

Sometimes there is nothing to do but cry.

God cries.

Let us weep with those who weep, and let us ask no questions for there are no answers. 


  1. I'll weep with you.

    Praying for you too.

  2. I appreciate your post. I've been wrestling with a lot of this too. One of my favorite verses is "Jesus wept." He wept because He saw people He loved hurting.

    Lately I've been thinking about how I approach psalms. What kind of hermeneutic do I use? Because you're right--God doesn't always protect us. They say proverbs are just statements that are "generally true," not promises. Maybe psalms are just expressions of emotion, not necessarily truths or promises. I don't know.

    Just thinking out loud. I'm not sure how I found your blog but I've been reading it off and on for a year or so. Keep writing!

  3. Thanks for your prayers, Kristy.

    Jen, I'm glad you liked the post. One of my favourite parts of the Psalms is their honesty: On the one hand, the writers share their hope and even rhapsody in God; on the other, they share about very dark times in their lives. Thanks for the comment - It's always good to know that people are reading and benefiting from what I write.