As a young man C.S. Lewis was angry at God. His mother had died when he was still a boy; he had been sent to a boarding school, which in the long and undistinguished history of English education was “horrid.” Then he had fought in World War I, in the filth and mud of the trenches of France.
How, he angrily wondered, could a good God allow such pain and suffering? How could a powerful God not do something to stop such suffering?
The angry young man became an atheist.
The question of a good God and the realty of suffering is a challenging one for any person of faith. The biblical book of Job seems entirely dedicated to the question. David, in numerous laments, wonders whether God is acting in a just and righteous manner. Jesus’ plaintive cry from the cross, an echo of the same question asked by the Psalmist is the cry of many puzzled, frustrated humans: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
I grew up and did mission work in southern Africa. I have seen plenty of evidence that this is a cruel and harsh world. Most of the suffering I observed, interestingly, had been caused by human beings; war, dictatorship, lawlessness, all contributed to the suffering of the ordinary citizen. In a world where humans get to choose to serve God or serve themselves, many humans choose badly. At least at some level, it needs to be said, the suffering we witness in our sad, tired world is caused by ourselves, not by God.
But of course the question still remains: If that is so, then why does God not simply force all humans to choose well. If there was no more sin and cruelty in the world, that would eliminate war, oppression and suffering.
These are not simple questions, of course, but one thing is clear: an existence in which humans are controlled so completely by God that they always choose well would be a very different world from the one in which we live. Being forced to choose the good is, by definition, not a choice. Being forced to love God is, as you can see, is not genuine love.
The next time you observe (or experience) something and you say, “I wish that had not happened,” remind yourself that God is saying exactly the same thing. God’s love is steady and undying; his heart breaks, I assure you, far more deeply than our limited hearts do, at suffering in our world.
I always think of the shortest verse in our English Bibles: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Beloved, be assured of this: he still does.
Lewis’ began the long journey back to faith in God when a thought came to him unbidden: “How can I be angry at a God,” he wondered, whom I do not believe exists?” (Surprised by Joy, 115).
We cannot count on getting our way all the time; not even God gets his way all the time. We can, however, count on his love. In hard times that may not seem like much, but I believe it is enough.