Why, why, why, oh God?

And I asked “why, why, why, oh God? Why did it have to be only my sister who was killed on the patrol that day?” -20-year-old female American soldier speaking at her twin sister’s funeral.

It is the mystery that always seems to move further from our reach the more we reach out for an answer. The issue you bristle at hearing. The question you can’t help but ask.

Why do bad things happen to innocent people?

Years ago I would have responded to this question differently than I do today. Like most questions, I assumed this one was a blank needing to be filled in, a query looking for the most biblical and reasonable solution that can be offered. And while that is partly true, it is obvious that for many who voice these words, it is not a question at all. It is a cry of anguish. It is the way people say, “I am hurting so badly, and I just don’t understand it.” No matter what “answer” someone gives to the problems of pain and evil, suffering people are still left with the gap of what or whom they have lost. Answers don’t replace people. The question is not one of philosophy, but of personal need: “Why, oh why, does this have to be?” Or, as the Psalms so often say, “How long, O Lord?”

I’ve been asked many times by someone in a severe crisis, “Why?” The blank expression, the lines etched deeply in the face, the wide, searching eyes all echo the question. No matter what “explanation” I offer, the emptiness in the face doesn’t disappear. It is like pouring water into a bucket with holes in it. The one thing that does seem to “take” is the truth that God is with us. And sometimes we are more aware of that when we are suffering than at any other time.

How can we explain that the people who suffer the most are usually driven not toward the black hole of skepticism, but toward God? The parent who loses a child, the worker who loses a job, the young woman whose doctor tells her she has to come back for a biopsy-how frequently these people cry out to God in their distress, their pain not taken as proof that no one above is listening, but as the occasion to believe all the more, to pray that most solemn of prayers: “Have mercy on me, O Lord.”

Philip Yancey quotes Scottish theologian James Stewart on this point, “It is the spectators, the people who are outside, looking at the tragedy, from whose ranks the skeptics come; it is not those who are actually in the arena and who know suffering from the inside. Indeed, the fact is that it is the world’s greatest sufferers who have produced the most shining examples of unconquerable faith.”

Some people have looked for a common-sense, real-life kind of answer, and have thus wondered, “Maybe God isn’t good, or maybe God isn’t almighty.” The first “solution” proposes that bad things happen because God can simply do whatever he wishes, and it just doesn’t matter that it seems bad to us. The second is to say that God would like to prevent bad things from happening, but that he is just not able to do it–perhaps not even God is able to keep up with all the chaos in the world. If only God had one war to deal with at a time…

But most of us realize that to give up on God’s goodness or his greatness is to believe in an utterly different kind of God. Not God at all, really. But this is not what Job or Jeremiah or David meant in the Old Testament when out of the pits of their distress they asked, “Aren’t you good, O God?” In their most honest prayers (intentionally left there as markers in Holy Scripture so that we can know that God would rather have us say anything than stay silent) these sufferers were simply saying, we know, God, that the evil things that happen are so contradictory to who you are, such a violation of what you stand for-please reassure us that you are in fact the Good God.

Another misleading solution is to simply believe that God is not. But atheism has always been and always will be a cheap answer. Augustine pointed out that if you ask, “If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” then you also have to ask, “If there is no God, why is there so much good?” Atheism solves nothing. It offers no comfort, takes away no pain, provides no hope. The only comfort it provides is an act of supposed resignation that says, you should have known all along you are only dust. Forget God, and the Genesis breath that turns dust into man.

Others have tried to suggest that maybe the solution to the problem of pain is that suffering is illusory. It deals with pain by saying we only think we experience pain. The religion founded by Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science, teaches this. Yet, Mrs. Eddy did die. The idea that suffering is an illusion flies in the face of common experience. Even if it is an illusion, the illusion hurts a lot. There is still a problem.

Excerpt from Putting the Pieces Back Together: How Real Life and Real Faith Connect. Free DVD available now.

Next time: what God’s word says about suffering

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11 thoughts on “Why, why, why, oh God?

  1. I agree that GOD has a purpose in EVERYTHING that happens to us although WE DO NOT
    understand that purpose. It is for OUR good. It may to get us back on tract. We just need
    to TRUST HIM MORE even though we may NEVER know WHY. WE must trust. In time,
    maybe not in this life but in proper time, we will understand.

  2. Dear Pastor Mel,

    For me, I believe that bad things happen to innocent people to make them aware of a GOD who cares for them especially during their time of trouble/need. A person will only be driven to GOD when he/she is in a difficult situation. He/she knows deep in his/her heart that there must be a way out and somebody is there to offer hope & help but sometimes reluctant to ask for help even to GOD Himself because of sin (pride & unbelief). I agree to what you said that we have to pray to GOD this prayer: “have mercy on me, O Lord” when we are in those trying and difficult times. For this, too, is my prayer for I have a big problem. I will continue to declare His mercy, faithfulness, goodness and greatness over my circumstance and will continue to put my hope and trust in the LORD!

    Let me also take this opportunity to say THANK YOU, Pastor Mel for blessing the body of Christ. “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)


  3. I don’t think God causes all our pain, we do. Most every time I am hurting over something it is because I have not followed God’s word on something or someone else has not. We all suffer with the consequences of someone else’s sin. God has given us all complete freedom of choice; we can choose good or bad. If we choose bad then either we or someone else will suffer because of it. Satan rules this world and it is up to us to overcome him with the help of God and His word. We learn from our troubles and we learn to lean on God to help us through them. He never promised us that we would not have troubles, only that He would be there for us.

  4. The bible says that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. Therefore, God is not the source of our pain. Sometimes there just are no answers for why bad things happen. The only thing we can do is trust that the Lord will comfort us in our pain.

  5. My son took his life. I walked in less than 2 minutes later. The pain is still there over two years later. I cried why, why, why, oh God? Not for an answer but as an outlet for the overwhelming pain. What a blessing it was to read what what I have not been able to adequately put into words in all this time. Those of you who wrote the previous comments should give serious consideration to listening instead of giving your opinion to those who suffer deep tragedy. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything, just be present and prayfully. God Bless you.

  6. Why, why, why? Somethings only God knows. We can only walk in the revelation afforded to us through our trust in Him, our seeking through the scriptures, following His way, being repentant. We live our lives in the Light of His love and He cares for us no matter the pain. Nothing can separate us from His love.

  7. i agree because of what i have suffered in my life.some of it were my choises, the rest in gods hands, i have learned from it all. thank jesus.

  8. I believe when we ask why, is because our Faith is not strong enough, and we are not listening hard enough for God’s answer’s, We become so impatient with ourselves and we do not give our Lord time enough to answer their questions, we must listen and believe in his word. We must keep our Faith as strong as possible, and we know that our God is a loving and caring God.

  9. Randy, I am so truly sorry for your loss. That is a pain I hope never to endure. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I pray that the Holy Spirit, the God of all comfort, will hold you and strengthen you and fill you with His perfect peace. Thank you for being so open and honest about your feelings. I’m glad this forum is an outlet you felt comfortable enough to share those feelings.
    We may never understand, on this side of eternity, any or all the answers to our questions of “WHY”. Our ways are not His ways, which isn’t the answer we might necessarily want/need to hear. We have to find a way to hold onto the truth that God is real, and He’s with us in our pain and suffering, even if we don’t understand why we have to endure it, or why we have to watch loved ones suffer and die, especially if they’re young, otherwise healthy, and “don’t deserve to be taken from us” so early in their life. We stand believing that God is sovereign and will always make the best decisions for our lives, whether we believe it or not. To have no faith or hope, that indeed would indeed be much worse.

  10. for the past weeks we are asking the same question My wife and I lost our only son
    However our faith in God keep us together. It is hard to go through the pain.
    our son is only 40 yeras old

  11. Even though thru the loss of my daughter, it hurts tremdously but I have never doubted Gods goodness & blessings. I’m mad because I feel I don’t have strength for my family that need me, I’ve always been the rock. I need to lean on HIM for the strength & HIM being my rock.
    I life this up to my Lord & Savior – Debora