You know the popular question that people have, “If God is a loving God, why does He allow suffering?” Well, I thought I had gone past asking that question until recently when I discovered that I am still struggling with it in a different form. The question I ask is, “If God loves His children so much, why does He let them screw up their lives?”
At 35 years old, I have lived enough years to see people of my generation bear the painful consequences of bad decisions and personal sins. Nothing strikes my heart harder than seeing people that I grew up with dealing with the pieces of a broken marriage. Some of these are the same people whose weddings I attended not that many years ago. What upsets me more is that for most of these unhappy unions, I had misgivings about the relationships since their courtship days.
And now that things have indeed fallen apart (or are falling apart), I find myself sad and angry with God about it. Surely, if even I could have seen it back then that these were “disasters waiting to happen” (yes, I am that dramatic and cynical), God must have known it. Why didn’t He do something about it? Why did He let these poor decisions be made that had repercussions not only on one or two people, but entire families and innocent children? Why is God the “Great Allower” when so much is at stake?
I was once asked a question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” when a poor decision regarding relationship and marriage is made? I remember thinking that perhaps the person who asked the question never had to endure the effects of an unhappy marriage. The reply I had was, “Lives can be destroyed, that’s the least of the worst that can happen!”
I don’t think I was wrong on that part. It is true that lives could be destroyed or at least handicapped. How many of us are aware of how broken we became from our families of origin because of absent parents or broken marriages? (A marriage doesn’t have to be in divorce to be broken. Just as much or more harm can be done in those marriages that are toxic but which never ended in divorce.)
But after days of wrestling with God about this issue, I realised that I struggle because I have not yet interiorised a few key lessons in faith:
1) God mothers but never smothers
When we are about to make bad decisions that will impact our futures adversely, God is always there to caution us and guide us. He speaks to us through Scripture, in our prayer, through people that He sends into our lives to counsel us. But if our hearts are hardened or we are too stubborn or unprepared to listen to Him, He does not impose His will on us, not even “for our own good”. The story of Israel and God amply demonstrates this. Why does God do this? Because there is something much more important than our not getting hurt.
2) What matters most is eternal salvation, not earthly happiness
While God wants for us the greatest happiness, He has quite a different definition of happiness than we do. We were created with a longing in our hearts for infinite joy, and He means to give it to us. But this longing for the infinite cannot be satisfied by anything earthly. This means that if earthly suffering can be catalysts for us to discover that it is God alone that will satisfy our longing, our earthly sufferings can become blessings. That is why God does not keep us from stumbling or falling.
3) God restores what we damage, but not in the way we expect
Sometimes we think that God will “make things better” in a way that leaves things “happily ever after.” If that were true, all illnesses would be cured, all broken relationships mended, and all suffering ended in this life. But God sees deeper than what we experience on the surface and His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8). People suffer and die, marriages end in divorce, friendships are irrevocably broken. These things can and do happen, but these do not faze God because He works from the perspective of Eternity. He will always restore, but we will only be able to fully appreciate His work when we are on the other side of this earthly life.
So am I still upset with God? Do I still struggle with Him? You bet! Yet I relish being able to be upset with Him and being able to wrestle with all these questions. I am open to His answers and trust that His ways are better than mine. And when I get frustrated with myself for not being able to respond as wisely and patiently as He does, I laughingly remember that I too am broken.
And when I do speak out when God asks me to, and I am not heeded (or I think I’m not), I shall remember that I am merely a servant. God only ever asks me to speak, He never asks me to ensure that I am heeded.
Love, let God, and let be.