Confessions of a Suffering Believer
Why do humans suffer? Why do children or mothers die at childbirth? Why do natural disasters destroy homes, communities and lives? Why _______ ? Fill in the blank.
On my podcast “DEAR YOUNG ATHLETE,” I ask my guests to share about their athletic journey. In a recent episode, my guest explained that there was a difficult situation with the coaching staff at his university and he felt he wasn’t getting a well-deserved opportunity to compete. He began to pray for a new coach. He had two specific requests: the new coach would be a Christ-follower and would allow everyone to compete for a starting position.
Well, a new coach was hired that next off-season. The first two things he said to the team (can you guess?): I’m a man of God and all positions are open.
God answered the prayer to a T.
I thought that was pretty cool so I posted the clip on Instagram. And that was that; I didn’t think much of it again.
Until…I saw that someone commented the following:
God allows millions of kids to die senselessly every day around the world but chooses to answer a call for a better sports coach somewhere in America? SMH (shaking my head)
Well, that got me thinking. Some people who make such comments are just trolling or trying to start an argument but some may actually be genuinely searching for answers. It’s impossible to know for sure, so I usually try to offer at least one thoughtful response:
I would venture to say that God doesn’t force anyone’s obedience. Therefore, kids die every day due to human failure and injustice (people not following God’s ways). It is hard to understand which prayers are answered in the way that we expect or hope for. The point here is that God is not far from our daily human experience and he is with those who cry out to him (especially the oppressed - but also those privileged to play sports). Our prayers aren’t always answered the way we want or expect (which I know firsthand) but sometimes they are and that’s pretty cool. Hope that makes sense. Peace to you.
We often think God is mainly interested in church and bible study. Growing up, it seemed to me that God wasn’t very interested in the things that I was interested (sports, secular music, friends…). I felt I couldn’t bring my whole self to church and my interests were never engaged; therefore, I wasn’t interested in God.
I now believe that God wants to be active in all aspects of our lives. He is interested in every part of us. In fact, He wants to use our specific gifts, interests, and passions to further His Kingdom.
That’s why I started “DEAR YOUNG ATHLETE,”: for the younger me. To tell my younger self, and all the young people today who are just like I was, that you can love sports and love Jesus.
I felt this story of God answering my guest’s prayer was a prime example of this truth which is why I posted it in the first place.
But, the skeptic in my comment section brought up a good point. Why would God answer such a prayer but not answer other prayers for healing, freedom from oppression, or avoidance of untimely death? My answer was not satisfactory. The skeptic responded once again:
I get the viewpoint but I simply disagree. How does ‘people not following God’s ways’ relate to natural disasters, genetic disease, etc.? Does that mean god punishes humans by allowing kids to die at birth, or from rare diseases, or accidents, or tsunamis? Humans can’t control those things, so either god punishes humans, or simply chooses to not intervene. Right? That’s why I have difficulty believing he’d choose to answer prayers for a new sports coach but ignore the much more important ones. ‘Mysterious ways’ is an unacceptable rationale.
thank you for a thoughtful response. I was referring to things such as starvation and preventable disease - people dying due to lack of resources because of selfishness and oppression. To your point I’d say this: Satan is alive and active in the world and the world is not as God intended so therefore there are all kinds of pain and suffering (I personally suffer from a devastating rare genetic disease). Does God stand by and watch without caring? I’d say no. He has been at work to redeem humanity and creation and His ultimate move was to give up His son to forgive sin. He one day will restore all things to perfection. He is patient, giving people time to repent and turn back to him before he brings the final judgment. In the meantime, the suffering and death of this world breaks his heart 💔. So, if one is truly concerned with suffering, death, and injustice, so is God! The best move in that case is to join his team, since Christians are supposed to be known for how they love each other and care for the oppressed. ❤️🙏🏼
“The problem of evil” is an age-old topic that many theologians have tried to explain and many non-believers have used as ammunition in their arguments against God’s existence or goodness. It is a hard topic. If God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, how do we explain evil and suffering; especially when it comes to genetic diseases or natural disasters (things that don’t seemingly involve human failure).
If you can be patient to read on, I will get there. But, let me start here: evil and suffering suck. It is ironic that the skeptic mentioned genetic rare disease. If you are reading this and you have followed my work, you would know that I suffer from a genetic rare disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA) which has been taking away my physical abilities slowly for my whole life. And it sucks. It is really hard to deal with practically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. And I don’t have it the worst; FA or suffering in general. Plenty of people have much worse FA than me. And plenty of people suffer horrible tragedies that are worse than living with a debilitating rare disease! It sucks!
So, any attempt to explain how suffering and evil can coexist with an all-good and all-powerful God is by no means an attempt to minimize anyone’s suffering, pain, or difficulty (my own included).
That said, let’s get to it.
There are really three questions raised by the skeptic and I will attempt to answer them each individually.
Why does evil and suffering exist in the world?
Why doesn’t God intervene?
Why would God answer a prayer about sports?
1. Why does evil and suffering exist in the world?
Love is inherently a choice; it can’t be forced. God is love and loves His creation but He doesn’t force anyone to love Him back, humans or angels. The Bible explains that Satan turned against God and was cast out of heaven to dwell on earth. When God created humans, they had a choice to love Him and be obedient to Him, or not to be. They chose the latter. Their decision caused brokenness to enter into four relationships and distort them far from what God intended: God with humans, humans with humans, humans with self, and humans with creation.
So, there is the obvious manifestation of murder, war, oppression, slavery, and so on. Humans choose not to follow God’s ways and therefore mistreat each other.
Less obvious is the question of genetic diseases and natural disasters. When sin (humans going their own way apart from God) entered the world, it caused things not to be as God intended. When humans give into Satan, we surrender our authority that we were meant to have. Thus, Satan has a lot of control in this world to do all kinds of evil. Did God give Satan authority? No, God gave humans authority and they gave it to Satan. So, that begs the next question:
2. Why doesn’t God intervene?
He does. As soon as sin entered the world, God began His plan to restore and redeem all of creation. But, God is doing so in partnership with humanity since He is not imposing love and obedience on anyone.
The pinnacle of God’s redemption plan is found in the life, death, resurrection, and eventual return of Jesus. Jesus lived without sin and showed humanity the way of life that God intended: servant leadership, sacrificial love, grace, truth, healing, and restoration of shalom. Jesus’s death paid the sacrifice for all human sin; since Jesus never sinned he was the only one able to take the punishment for us. This is the only way that God can forgive sin while maintaining His justice: taking sin upon himself (Jesus). The resurrection shows ultimate victory over death and suffering for Jesus and all who place faith in Him. One day, Jesus will return and restore all things back to their intention: God with humans, humans with humans, humans with self, humans with creation.
God intervened by joining us in our suffering. He is intervening now by drawing people back into relationship with Him and turning them into workers of justice and lovers of their neighbors. He will ultimately intervene and fix everything.
Well, what’s taking so long? I’m not sure, but the Bible says that God is patient and is giving people time to turn back to Himself: He doesn’t want anyone to die apart from Him!
3. Why would God answer a prayer about sports?
I don’t know. I believe that God wants to be intimately involved with every part of our lives. I believe that His ears are open to those who follow His ways. Was it just a coincidence? Maybe. I have seen God answer prayers in my life and I have had other prayers unanswered.
This, I do know: the Bible says that when we submit ourselves to God, we are “more than conquerers” in our suffering. What does that mean? Well, not only are we conquerers since we will participate in ultimate victory and restoration. But God, in His goodness, can take our worst sufferings, and use them in amazing ways for good. Many of the greatest movements of love, compassion, and justice have come out of pain and suffering that has been submitted to God.
So, those are my answers in the most concise way I can think of. Are you convinced? If not, give me a better explanation. Many feel that evil and suffering are reasons to reject God. I would say the God and the grand narrative of the Bible are the only ways to adequately explain pain, evil, and suffering.
So, I’m sticking with Jesus, and I hope you’ll join me.
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