A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
I really like to read. My favorite genre is nonfiction. I may even have an addiction to nonfiction books. I realized I own 100s nonfiction books this week when I put together a large bookshelf that could only hold half of my books.
Megan, my wife, and I want to share our love of reading with our kids, so we’ve been reading to them before they could even hold their heads up. One of the books we’ve read to them is the popular Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. In it, a little boy named Alexander has a day in which nothing goes right. He concludes things would be better if he could only move to Australia. At the end of the story, Alexander’s mom says that some days are like this, and bad things can happen anywhere… Even in Australia.
We all have bad weeks. Most of us have had bad seasons of life. Some of you might say you’re having a bad life. And unlike the story of a boy named Alexander, there’s nothing funny about it.
Maybe your kid did something you cannot believe they did at school, or you’re worried you’ll lose your job because your job performance isn’t what your boss wants it to be. For others, someone you love has unexpectedly passed away. You try to escape by turning on the news, but the reports worsen daily. And you’ve got a feeling that they’ll continue to get worse.
Or you did that thing again. That secret thing that you don’t want anyone else to know that you struggle with. You’ve been trying so hard not to, and you hear that voice in your head say that you might as well give up because you’ll never get it right. It could be the other way. You haven’t done that thing. You’ve worked really hard, and you’ve had success at it. And yet your spouse still wants to separate.
During these times, it’s hard to find God. We wonder why God allows pain and suffering.
How can a good God allow pain and suffering?
Questions like these about suffering, pain, and God have caused many to doubt God’s existence; it’s caused us all to doubt God’s goodness. You want it to believe that everything happened for a reason or that God had some grand plan for all your pain and suffering. You tried, but the more and more you saw and the more and more you experienced, that came into serious doubt; not just that, but God came into serious doubt.
Are we allowed to talk about this? Should we? You know there are no definitive or easy answers to this question. Maybe you’re reading and grew up in and around the church. Perhaps you believe we should just trust in God. I would point out that the Bible is full of stories of people who go through tough seasons, and they don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.” They challenge God. They complain to him. People throw their hands up and shout, aren’t you there!?
Whoever told you those things was trying to be helpful. I’m not trying to cut them down at all. But it wasn’t biblical. David, Moses, Naomi, Job, and the disciples all had faith. And yet they searched for answers to this question on pain and suffering.
Habakkuk was a prophet living in the final decades before Israel’s Southern Kingdom was destroyed by Babylon. His Old Testament book documents his struggle to believe God was good. He says,
“How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.” – Habakkuk 1:2-4 (NLT)
If I didn’t tell you this was written 1000’s of years ago, you would think that somebody wrote this today. “How long, O Lord, must we call for help?” There’s another community ravaged by natural disasters, a senseless war continuing in Ukraine, and precious children gunned down at school in Uvalde.
It’s not just questions about the world we care about. You want to bring things in your life to God and say, “Why did you let this happen to me? Why don’t you care about all the pain I am in? Why don’t you do something?” If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions about pain and suffering, I assure you that you are in excellent company. There are many people we read about in the Bible who had a ton of faith and asked the same questions.
Where does pain & suffering come from?
In the beginning, pain and suffering were not part of God’s original creation. Go to the first page of the Bible, and you can read how God makes this and that, and it’s all good. One of the things that you’ll notice is that pain and suffering are not mentioned. We see that these first humans choose against God’s will, and everything changes. Paul explains,
“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adams’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” – Romans 5:12
In the beginning, we read over and over again everything was good. At some point, something is terrible. People were given free will. Not just the ability to choose. God doesn’t just say “pick A or B;” he lays out many options for us. He tells us that we don’t only get to choose, but that we get to create. You don’t have to just choose love. You can choose hate. God allows us to accept or reject him. That’s what it means to have free will and to be autonomous. God didn’t create you to be a puppet or actor in a prewritten play. God wants a relationship with you and me and desires that we choose to be in one with him.
We can easily understand why. If Megan only stayed with me because she had to, is she choosing me? Does she love me? Does Megan want to be with me? Or is she with me because someone’s making her because she’s forced to stay? If she’s only there because she has to stay there, it’s not love. For Megan to choose to love me, she has to be able to not. That’s what God has given each of us.
God says I would love it if you choose my will. I would love it, but we have to decide that. This is why Jesus, when teaching his disciples to pray, says, “Pray Your kingdom come. You will be done.” What a silly thing to pray if God’s will was the only will being done.
Why does pain and suffering exist in our lives?
In some cases, it’s because of sin. Death, we’re told, is here because of sin. Sickness is here because of sin. Those things did not exist when God first created the world. In other cases, it’s because you have a choice. Sometimes we make choices, whether we meant to or not, that negatively impact others. The pain and suffering in your life could be because of someone else’s choices. Other times, the pain and suffering in our lives are because of our choices and choices that we’ve made away from God’s will.
Now does this little freewill explanation mean that, all sudden, your pain and suffering are less? Probably not. I bring that up to show that sometimes we think that with our pain and suffering, if there was a reason, or if I knew the reason, it would hurt less. But no, it would still hurt. It still hurts. There aren’t good enough answers to some of the things we’re going through, whether they were your choices, someone else’s choices, or just the fact that we live in a broken world.
This is a good time for me to point out that your situation won’t always improve if you have more faith. If you think about our faith, it is built on the premise that something terrible happened to a really good person; we have a God who identifies with us in our suffering. Jesus was full of faith, and yet he still suffered.
We can fast forward to the end of the story. Right now, you and I live in the in-between part. We read Revelation, John says,
“I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. All of these things will be gone forever.'” – Revelation 21:3-4
I want to end on this very practical application point. Jesus loves you just so much. You have not gone a moment in your pain and suffering without him. He has been with you the whole time. You might not have been aware of that, but Jesus has been with you. He understands your pain as someone who left heaven came to Earth, experienced pain and suffering, and promises to never leave us.