Have you ever asked that question, or one like it? Why did my relationship break up? Why did that accident happen? Why this disease? I know God could have prevented it; why didn’t he? I know God can fix it; why won’t he?
We humans are meaning-makers; we want life to make sense. Intellectually, we know that life involves suffering. But that’s harder to accept when we’re the ones going through it. Many unwanted situations, especially significant or prolonged pain, threaten to push us to the edge of meaninglessness. We scurry for explanations: there has to be a reason.
Today’s title is drawn from a scene from the movie Man of Steel, described in an earlier post. Superheroes are often portrayed as exhilarated when they discover their newfound powers. But Man of Steel dares to suggest that the boy Clark Kent, not knowing his extraterrestrial origin, would have found it disturbing to be different. Neighbors, needing to make sense of Clark’s unusual talents, interpret them as an act of God. In anguish, young Clark asks his adoptive father, “Are they right? Did God do this to me?”
We don’t want to live in a chaotic, random universe. Of course, we don’t mind it so much when fortune seems to favor us, and we might even praise God for what seems like good luck. But when we feel like victims of fate, when inexplicably bad things happen, we’re apt to wonder why.
To believe that God was directly or indirectly responsible may help maintain some sense of order. But that merely begs the next question: why would God do such things, or allow them to happen? And the answer I often hear is some version of the belief that “God must be trying to teach me something.”
Let me affirm from the outset that I believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. Quite simply, he can do anything he wants, including sending some form of trial whose purpose is to teach us a lesson.
I’m concerned, however, that the notion of God sending suffering for our instruction is too often used unreflectively as a solution for meaninglessness. We soothe our anxiety or confusion by asserting that God must have had a reason.
Again, that’s possible. But I think the broader biblical perspective is that suffering is part and parcel of living in a world that was created good by God, but marred by sin. We suffer the consequences of our own sins, as well as the sins of others, in an unseen web of relations that spans time and space.
The world is out of whack, and bad things happen. Does that mean that God can’t do anything about it? Not at all. Does that mean that there is no meaning in suffering? I think it’s better to ask the question this way instead: can there be meaning and purpose in a life that involves suffering? And the biblical answer to that question is a clear and resounding yes.
More on that in the next post.