I was with a small group of Ratio Christi leaders the other day, talking about the problem of pain and suffering. It wasn’t just on a philosophical level, such as, “How could an all-good, all-powerful God exist when there’s pain and suffering in the world?” It was about the other kind of pain and suffering question: “Does God care? And how am I going to keep going?”
It wasn’t just theoretical, either. It was about my life, and my family’s. We’ve been through a near-constant stream of major challenges for about seven months now.
Some of you are going through pain considerably greater than mine, yet what I’m talking about are not small matters. They range from my daughter totaling her car in an icy-road accident, to a 2:00 am emergency room visit for me, to a very unwelcome April 15 surprise (that means tax-related, for non-U.S. readers), to two family members losing jobs for reasons I will only describe as “irregular.”
Ratio Christi’s first president resigned unexpectedly early in January, which was both a personal loss to me and an organizational crisis. There was a frightening health situation in our extended family last December. I won’t even mention how much travel I’ve needed to during this time.
I can count about fifteen events of this sort since around last August or September. I’ve spoken here about some of them along the way.
Maybe you’re wondering when I’ll quit dwelling on it. I’ve been wondering when it would stop.
Maybe it has. Yesterday was literally the first day in seven months that I wasn’t on the road, had no major deadline looming on me, and had no work or family crisis to handle. All I had to face was foot pain that kept me awake for hours last night. (It hits hardest at when I’m trying to sleep.)
Does God Care?
I have a Facebook friend who has been suffering one lengthy, ongoing, painful and sometimes dangerous medical condition for several months. He prayed. He prayed a lot. What he heard was silence. He has decided to walk away from Christianity.
I’ve prayed, too. I’ve been reading the Psalms lately, in the range from about Psalm 60 to Psalm 80. They’re filled with cries to God: “When are you going to do for us what you did for others? When are you going to come through for me? I need your help! When will it come?”
Some of their questions were answered, but I’m not so sure all of them were.
How long will all of you attack a man to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
(Psalm 62:3; using ESV here and below.)
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
I don’t know how these situations came out in the writers’ lives. They are psalms “of David,” but biblical scholars say we don’t know whether that meant David was the author, or whether they were in the style of David, were written under David’s mentorship, or had some other connection to him. If David was the author, then for the most part yes, his enemies were vanquished, but we don’t know how long that was after he wrote these prayers.
So these are prayers of pain and wondering. Does God really care? The Expositor’s Bible Commentary titles Psalm 60, “Has God Forgotten Us?”
It’s a good question. It’s real-life question. I’ve wrestled hard with it. I’m praying things like, “God, if this is part of your training for me, I’m getting weary of all these unannounced midterm exams. Can we call an end to the semester and have a bit of spring break?”
Still I’m siding with the psalmists’ faith. They never let go of their trust in God. I quoted from Psalm 62 earlier. Here are the first two verses, which are essential for context:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Psalm 69, from which I also quoted above, ends with,
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.
How can a person praise God when things are going wrong? I could address that question on a philosophical/apologetic level: “Is it rationally possible to believe God cares?” Or I could address it on a psychological/spiritual/pastoral level: “Is it real-life possible to believe he cares?”
I will look at it both ways, for the answers exist, they are real, and they are good. For now, though, I’ve said enough. I’ll continue with this topic over the next few days.