EP45: Stop Blaming God
We need to stop blaming God for all the pain and suffering in the world. Here’s why…
A COMMON STORY OF DISBELIEF
I once worked with a very smart, perceptive, sensitive and caring guy named Mike. Almost every time we talked – which was typically once or twice per week – we ended up in a deep, lengthy, philosophical discussion about some topic of significance.
It was inevitable that we’d end up talking about spirituality at some point, and, sure enough, one day, that happened.
Mike shared his “God” story with me, and that single conversation was largely what compelled me to write what you’re reading right now.
Can’t Put My Faith in a God That Would Allow That
The key point of our conversation, which lasted nearly three hours, was Mike saying this:
“So, yeah, I was raised in the church, I went to Catholic school, I used to believe all that stuff, blah, blah, blah. But I simply couldn’t continue to put my faith in a God that could possibly allow so much pain and suffering in the world.”
How many times have you heard someone say something like that? Personally, I’ve lost count. Maybe you’ve even thought or said the same thing yourself.
In response, I asked Mike if he had ever read the Bible.
He replied, “When I was younger, I was forced to read parts of it, but I don’t think I ever read the whole thing. But I have a pretty good feel for what it says.”
OK; But Do You Know What It Actually Says?
I replied, “That’s great. Just out of curiosity, does the Bible promise or even suggest that the world – or even any person’s life individually – would be free of pain and suffering?”
There was a long silence.
This conversation took place online, in a Google Hangout – Mike was in Austin, TX, and I was in Plymouth, MI – so I was looking at Mike on a 41 inch HD monitor, which allows you to see a person more intimately than if they were sitting directly across a table from you in real life.
Mike looked confused, as if he had never even considered that question before.
As if it was just a given that a compassionate and caring God would never allow pain and suffering in the world.
As if the Bible MUST say things to that effect, right?
There was more silence.
Mike’s face contorted. He squinted his eyes. He took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead. He adjusted his baseball cap.
Has To Be in There Somewhere; How Could it Not Be?
Mike finally replied with a response I think many of us, if we were honest with ourselves, would give if we had to answer the question I had posed to him: “I’m not sure, but I have to believe that’s in there somewhere. I mean, how could it NOT be?”
Implicit in Mike’ response is the idea that God is somehow responsible for all pain and suffering.
That, if God has the power to eliminate those things, and He chooses to stand back and allow ‘bad things happen to good people,’ as it’s so commonly phrased, then He simply cannot be loving and compassionate, and He logically and rightfully deserves to be blamed for all the pain and suffering taking place in the world all around us that, for whatever reason, He chooses not to prevent or rectify.
I then told Mike what I’m about to tell you with respect to what the Bible actually says about pain and suffering, the punch line of which was this:
STOP BLAMING GOD.
Before I get into the specifics of what I told Mike and why we should stop blaming God for the world’s problems, as a sidebar of sorts and for purposes of this discussion, we must accept that God exists.
Because we can’t logically blame Him for anything if He doesn’t exist, right?
So, for the next few minutes, please suspend any disbelief you may have and accept that the God of the Christian Bible exists.
That said, here are the reasons we need to stop blaming God for all the pain and suffering in the world.
WE’RE NOT QUALIFIED
Since, for purposes of this discussion, we’ve accepted that God exists, then we must also accept everything that His Word – the Bible – says about Him. And the very first thing His Word says is that He created everything – the Earth, our solar system, everything in the universe, the universe itself, etc. – which is stated in the literal first sentence of the Bible, at Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
As such, if He did all of that – created the totality of the universe, AKA, literally everything – then He clearly operates on a level we simply cannot and will never be able to fully grasp or comprehend. The Bible also says that explicitly (emphases added):
- Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
- Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
- Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
To unpack this a little bit further, and to provide one illustration to reinforce the point, if you’ve ever studied the universe, the first thing that floors you is its absolute vastness and the sheer, overwhelming, jaw-dropping size and scope of space.
It’s currently estimated that the diameter (the distance across) of the universe is 93 billion light years.
And a light year is about 5.88 TRILLION miles.
Yes, nearly six TRILLION miles.
And that’s for just a single light year.
So, that means the universe is 93 billion x 6 trillion miles in diameter.
If you do the math on that, you arrive at a number I literally don’t even know how to say out loud: 5.46712159706e+23.
The universe is so much bigger than anything we commonly encounter or contemplate that we can’t mentally process something of that size; the human mind is simply not capable of grasping anything of that scope, scale or dimension.
And God created that.
We humans like to believe we are masters of all, but the reality is that there are still so many things we don’t understand about our world, let alone the universe, that we are deluding ourselves with such arrogant thinking.
As such, to think we can even remotely contemplate or understand how God did all that He did – let alone judge Him, on anything – is similarly delusional and arrogant.
WE LACK KNOWLEDGE
Beyond not having the capacity to understand, let alone judge God, probably the biggest reason so many of us blame God for all the pain and suffering in the world can be summed up in these few words: we simply don’t know what God’s Word actually says on the topic of pain and suffering.
We Hold God to Standards That We’ve Created
That is, we lack the specific knowledge necessary to have any basis for evaluating anything about God.
Worse yet, many of us – exactly like Mike did at the start of this post – have created a set of “rules” specific to God in terms of how He should be handling things, and we judge Him based on those rules that, in fact, are based on nothing more than what we WANT those rules to be.
We just assume that God will make everything perfect in our lives – even when we do none of the things we are called to do to potentially position ourselves for Him to actively intercede in our lives – and that He exists to prevent injustices.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way this works.
Unfortunately (or not), we don’t make the rules…God does.
And His perspective on pain and suffering is clearly articulated within His Word, as we shall see momentarily.
Pain and Suffering is Promised
Spoiler alert: for those who believe that God exists to provide us with comfortable lives and to protect us from pain and suffering, that’s simply not what the Bible says.
Many people view God as a cosmic vending machine in the sky, existing only to serve us and bring us pleasure.
That’s simply not the truth of that matter.
In fact, if you do a keyword search on the word “trouble” using the website I use for studying the Bible – BibleGateway.com – the “suggested result” (the single scripture the site believes is most relevant) is John 16:33, which says this: “In this world you will have trouble.”
Note that there are 172 references to “trouble” in the New International Version of the Bible, which you can see here. Ergo, the Bible is loaded with stories of people dealing with significant amounts of pain and suffering in their lives.
Continuing with John 16:33, note that that verse doesn’t say, “In this world you may have trouble.”
Or, “In this world, you could have trouble.”
Or, “If you believe in God, your life will be free of trouble.”
No, it says directly and unequivocally, “In this world you will have trouble.”
So, not only does God NOT promise us a life devoid of pain and suffering, but He actually says the exact opposite.
And when we study the lives of the greatest figures in the Bible – and we’ll quickly touch on a few of those in a moment – we see the stark reality of that fulfilled, over and over.
So, if God has said straight up that we will have trouble in this life, how can we then be upset with Him when things turn out exactly as He said they would?
Ergo, the entire notion of a world without pain and suffering is not realistic, and is in fact in direct contradiction to what the Bible itself states clearly.
We Have the Wrong Perspective
God views everything from an eternal perspective. If you’re one who doesn’t believe in eternity, or if you’re not quite sure about whether there is an eternity, then your perspective puts you at odds with God’s view of things. And whether we’re viewing things from an eternal perspective or from a secular, non-eternal perspective makes all the difference with respect to the larger point being discussed here.
Here are a few of the things the Bible says about eternity:
- Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
- John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
The common denominator in each of these examples: explicit reference to eternal life.
Ergo, from God’s perspective, “this life” here on earth – your life, my life, everyone’s life – is not all there is.
God’s perspective is in sharp contrast with how much of humanity views things. I’ll refer to that as the “humanistic/secular” perspective, which is primarily/entirely focused on “this life,” with “eternity” as an afterthought…if it’s thought of at all.
I attend a church in Plymouth, Michigan called NorthRidge. The pastor of that church is an incredibly talented guy named Brad Powell. Brad once said something that puts this in perfect perspective: “This life is but a hair’s width on the rope to eternity.”
With that in mind, if God’s focus is on “the eternal” – which it clearly is – then the specific details of what does or does not happen in our incredibly short lives here on earth – including potentially enduring pain and suffering – is entirely secondary to the bigger picture, which is centered on what happens to us in eternity.
In other words, we tend to focus on optimizing “this life,” which would logically include minimizing pain and suffering.
God’s entire focus is on eternity, and, as such, whether we do or do not have a “great” life from a human perspective is not nearly as important to Him as it is to most of us.
The Greatest Characters in the Bible Suffered Tremendous Pain and Suffering
If you examine the people generally viewed as the greatest characters of the Bible, you will see they had this in common: they endured significant pain and suffering. Here are some examples:
- David: This is the same David who defeated Goliath, and who went on to become a great king of Israel. During his life, he was hunted like an animal, had everything he owned – including his family – stolen from him, lost a child because he committed adultery, and much more. David had lots of trouble in his life, and experienced more than his share of pain of suffering.
- Paul: Paul was dedicated to persecuting the early Disciples of Christ until, via a miraculous encounter with Jesus, he became an apostle who taught the Gospel to the first-century World. Paul is credited with writing thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Here is a partial list of things he endured, word for word, from a single scripture in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 24-27: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” If you thought David experienced a lot, Paul experienced even more. And, again, we’re talking about the single greatest contributor to the authoring of the New Testament, the primary message of which was the good news of Jesus Christ, the most important message in the history of humanity, in my opinion.
- Jesus: Jesus is the central figure of the Bible and Christianity, and arguably the most famous person to ever live. Jesus is the perfect example of the point I am making here. Jesus did absolutely nothing to deserve what He suffered, as He was without sin and the only person to ever live a perfect life. And yet He endured the ultimate pain and suffering: a barbaric, brutal, highly-public death by crucifixion.
The point: if the greatest, most significant characters in the Bible were not spared from pain and suffering, (exactly as God stated clearly in His Word) why would we logically think WE would be spared from such things?
It doesn’t make any sense to think that God would grant a completely ordinary person like me – or you – privileges and protections He didn’t give the most important people at the very core of His story.
This is a big point, so I want to err on the side of making it very clearly: exactly as I told my friend Mike that day, it is wholly and completely unreasonable to blame God for all the pain and suffering in the world when:
- He promised – directly and explicitly – we would have pain and suffering in this life.
- His focus is NOT on this life, but on eternity. As such, His focus in not on providing us comfortable, easy, prosperous and trouble-free lives, but rather on making sure we end up with Him in eternity.
- The greatest characters in the Bible experienced incredible amounts of pain and suffering; if that is true, why would we think we deserve anything better?
So, our lack of knowledge is a major issue with respect to blaming God for pain and suffering.
OTHER REASONS PAIN AND SUFFERING EXIST
Beyond the things just noted as reasons why it is not reasonable to blame God for all the pain and suffering in the world, if we look even deeper into this topic, we see that He uses (or allows) pain and suffering to motivate and compel people for a variety of reasons, as follows.
To Compel Believers to Repent
God uses pain and suffering as a tool to get people’s attention – and sometimes the attention of entire nations – to compel them to repent and come back to Him. We can see examples of this at Amos 4:10 and at Nehemiah 9:28.
In both of these illustrations, God’s Word says EXPLICITLY that He Himself created or expressly allowed pain and suffering, but for a very specific, positive purpose: to get His people, who had wandered away from Him, to repent and turn back to Him.
To Discipline, Grow and Mature Us
God also uses pain and suffering to grow us and to mature us. Here are scriptures in support of that:
- Proverbs 3:11-13: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in. Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding…”
- James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
- Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Like the great Father that He is, God uses pain and suffering to discipline those who believe, so that we might gain wisdom and understanding, and become mature and complete, because He loves us and wants what is best for us.
To Cause Non-Believers to Believe
As already noted, God’s primary goal for us is for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.
In today’s world – particularly in modern day America, circa 2020 – many of us lead very comfortable lives. And the hard reality is that comfort tends to make many of us forget about God. That’s evidenced by a prosperous Western world where belief in God is largely absent, and on a clear downward arc.
Logically, the opposite is also often true: when experiencing hardship, many people turn to God. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote the following: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
So many times over the course of my life I’ve seen this scenario play out: people seek God only when they are in trouble. Because this is the only way many people can be reached, it makes perfect sense that God would sometimes use pain and suffering to try to motivate people to seek Him.
THE GOOD NEWS
So far, most of what I’ve shared with you has been sobering. Maybe worse, depending on your views of God before reading this. But there is good news…
God Helps Us in Times of Trouble
While the Bible does make clear that we will endure pain and suffering in this life, it also states explicitly that God helps His people in such times of trouble. There are countless examples of this in the Bible. I’ll reference two.
First, Psalm 34:19 say this: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
So, while God did promise we’d have trouble in this life, He also told us He would deliver us from THEM ALL. Not SOME, but ALL.
But there is a qualification within that scripture, a requirement, which is this: we must be righteous. And how do we do that, since – as stated at Romans 3:23, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – we are incapable of true righteousness on our own? There is only one way to do that – through Christ – as these scriptures explicitly indicate:
- 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
- John 14:6: “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.””
In summary, God will deliver you from all your troubles. But first, you have to become “righteous.” And the Bible is clear in there being only one way to do that.
Second, John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I mentioned this specific passage – John 16:33 – earlier, but I didn’t include that last, critical part: “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
What that means is that good has overcome evil, that God has ultimate power in each and every situation in your life, and that He CAN and WILL intervene directly in the lives of those who believe in Him.
Personally, I’ve experienced this so many times in my life I’ve literally lost count. Here’s a blog post I wrote recently that touches on what I’m saying here.
God has delivered me from EVERY significant trouble I’ve had in my life.
And I’ve had plenty, and some of them were massive.
So, from direct, personal experience over the course of multiple decades of my life and involving many specific examples, I can tell you unequivocally that God is 100% faithful to His Word.
Sometimes, it took years for circumstances to play out to allow me to see God’s faithfulness manifest in certain scenarios.
But once you’ve lived through enough of theses situations – where something so incredible or so entirely unexpected happens, or with a timing or a particular response so perfect and so precise that you just KNOW in your spirit that God’s Hand was at work – you ultimately come to realize that God is completely faithful, reliable and trustworthy.
God Works Out All Things for Our Good
Romans 8:28 says this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
If you doubt that, consider this: God took the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe — deicide, or the death of Jesus on the cross — and turned it into the very best thing that has happened in history of universe: the opening up of heaven to all who would follow Him.
If God can take the very worst circumstances imaginable and turn them into the very best situation possible, is it not reasonable to believe that He can also take the negative circumstances of your life – the hardships, the setbacks, the defeats, the disappointments, all the pain and suffering – and create something good from them?
I’d like to leave you with the following concluding thoughts…
Pain and Suffering Are a Given
Pain and suffering in this world are guaranteed for each and every one of us.
So, to be mad at God, or to blame Him, for life being exactly as He told us it would be, makes no sense.
In thinking along those lines, we’re operating from an uninformed perspective.
We’re separating ourselves from God because we’re viewing all of this from a humanistic and secular perspective, and – because of the inherent skew that comes with that perspective – we don’t like the way He does things.
We’re judging God by a set of rules that simply isn’t real, accurate or consistent with what God’s own Word says about pain and suffering.
If there was ambiguity surrounding this issue, that would be one thing.
But there is no ambiguity.
The reality of the matter is that, when it comes to pain and suffering, God has told us what the deal is.
God didn’t leave it for us to figure any of this stuff out. He told us.
And not only did God tell us, but He did so very clearly, and very explicitly.
If you go back and read the scriptures I have cited within this post, you will see that everything God has to say about pain and suffering is stated plainly and simply.
It’s Not God, It’s Us
The problem is not God.
The problem is us, and our unwillingness to either learn, or to believe, what God has said about the troubles we are going to endure in this life, including pain and suffering.
As such, the existence of pain and suffering in this world does not in any way suggest that (1) God does not exist, or (2) that He is not loving, caring or compassionate.
Ergo, it’s time we stopped blaming God for the pain and suffering in the world.
In fact, instead of blaming God for all the pain and suffering in the world, we should be including and involving Him in our lives, precisely because there is so much trouble in our lives.
Because – whether you take God’s Word for it, or you simply rely on your own experiences and observations – it is abundantly clear that this world IS full of trouble.
Now, more than ever – as we are experiencing a level of chaos and discord that is largely unprecedented for many of us – we can all agree on that, regardless of our spiritual orientations.
We Must Choose
Because, at the end of the day, that’s what this really comes down to: we all have to make a choice. We know that this life is going to include lots of trouble, and an abundance of pain and suffering. So, if that is true – and it is – that leaves us with the following choices:
- Reject and or blame God, and do so with the knowledge that you are your only option for dealing with everything that life will inevitably throw your way, or
- Accept and embrace God, knowing that you will still have your share of pain and suffering, but that He will be with you through it all, and that, in the end, He will deliver you from whatever comes your way.
To quote a line from one of my favorite songs – ironically titled Free Will – by Rush:
You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
CATCH UP ON UNCPHEW PODCASTS IN THE PLAYER BELOW!