Finding God in the Midst of Pain

By Alex McFarland   •   March 21, 2011

Devastation… danger… desperation. Such words are still being used in headlines referencing Japan, as observers struggle to adequately describe the magnitude of this tragedy. Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation-related statistics are continually being updated as accounts of death, damage and turmoil among the survivors dominate the news.

Whether facing a human-initiated tragedy such as a terrorist attack, or in times of natural disaster like the earthquakes that hit Haiti, Chili, and now Japan? we invariably ask ourselves, “Why?” In the process of enduring such calamities, people may wonder, “Where is God? Could He have prevented this? Does what I am going through matter to God?”

As limited, finite human beings, no one can fully know why a given event might have happened, or why seemingly innocent individuals suffer. But we long for an answer to the elusive issue of why. People in Jesus’ time wanted to know why a certain man was born blind (John 9) and why lives were lost through a prominent disaster of that era (Luke 13). Should we automatically conclude that sinners were getting their “just deserts?” Or like John the Baptist’s moment of doubt while in prison, should we conclude that maybe God isn’t as authentic or faithful as we had first thought (Matthew 11)?

We may not know every reason behind the events of life, but meaning and hope can come from reflecting on what humans do know about God and this world. In a number of ways (through creation, conscience, Scripture, and through Christ Himself), God has shown His creatures that He exists. Further, God has revealed much about this world and His plans for it. God says that the original creation was perfect, but sin and fallenness was introduced through human rebellion.

With this in mind, it’s a wonder that more places aren’t severely damaged by weather, or that more lives aren’t lost. Rather than blame God, it’s probably more suitable to praise God, given the data, and ask, “How is it that the human race is so protected and shielded, given the self-inflicted dangers posed to humans by this world?” We cannot forget that humanity–not God–is to blame for natural evil. It was our sinfulness that caused God to curse the earth (Gen. 3:17). As Romans 8:21-22 points out, the world is in bondage and is suffering from man-induced “corruption.”

How You Can Help Japan

People across Japan have lost virtually everything in the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Please donate online today and thank you for your support.

Hope or consolation would be scarce if the story ended there. However, there is valid reason to trust God’s promise that He will one day “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). John the Baptist was encouraged to evaluate his own doubts in light of the promises of Scripture and the Person of Christ. Divine love, forgiveness, healing and even victory over death are not just pious platitudes, but are realities promised by both the Bible and Jesus. Christ’s historically verified empty tomb is tangible proof that this death-conquering Jesus was indeed in a position to authoritatively speak about the here and the hereafter.

The question becomes, “Could there be a morally sufficient reason for God to allow pain and suffering to enter our lives?” The answer is yes. Suffering may be the only means by which a nonbeliever will see his need for Christ (though only God knows this). Meanwhile, believers who suffer can emerge from their valleys with purified character, deeper faith and a greater awareness of how truly faithful God is. C.S. Lewis asserted that, “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”(1) If this is indeed the case, then we may peacefully accept that God is still loving and merciful even when trials and sufferings have been permitted to come into our lives. For the one willing to process their suffering with an eye on God, there is purpose in pain. Here are some reasons why God may allow pain and suffering in the world? Even on the scale of what the nation of Japan is now going through:

  • Suffering uncovers what is really inside of our hearts.
  • Suffering breaks us of our pride.
  • Suffering can deepen our desire for God.
  • Suffering can mature us.
  • Suffering can breed humility.
  • Suffering may be a warning of something potentially worse
  • Suffering can jump-start our prayer life.
  • Suffering may prompt a lost person to receive Christ.
  • Suffering may lead a Christian to confess sin.
  • Suffering helps deepen our trust in God.
  • Suffering can deepen our appreciation for Scripture.
  • Suffering helps us appreciate other Christians who were victorious.
  • Suffering can take our eyes off ourselves and this world.
  • Suffering can teach us firsthand that God truly is sufficient.
  • Suffering can connect us with other people.
  • Suffering can create an opportunity for witness.
  • Suffering can lead a person into Christian ministry.
  • Suffering can make us grateful for what we had or still have.
  • Suffering can position our lives to bring more glory to God.
  • Suffering, properly handled, will result in rewards in heaven.

Christians do not deny the realities of evil and tragedy, but we do affirm that God can (and will) bring good from it. Like Jesus, we weep with those who weep (see John 11:35 and Romans 12:15) and long for the day that evil will be quarantined and this world restored. Believers everywhere extend their prayers, love, sympathy, and support for the people of Japan.

The reality of evil, pain, and suffering in the world does not negate the reality of God. Far from it? if there were no God, then not only would there be no answer to the question of suffering, life itself would have no meaning. The healthiest way to understand and endure life’s valleys is to find our solace and sanctuary in Christ. At this time, may God draw the Japanese closer to each other, and closer to Himself. At this time, may God enable people of goodwill everywhere to pull together with brave, humble, and grateful hearts.

1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. New York: MacMillan Publishers, 1962, page 93.

Alex McFarland, a renowned Bible teacher, author, and apologetics-based evangelist, is former president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and Veritas Graduate School. He is also host of the nationally syndicated radio program Truth Talk Live. He previously served as Focus on the Family’s first director of teen apologetics.

McFarland, along with Gary Habermas and Frank Turek, will teach a seminar at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove April 15-17, titled When Worlds Collide.

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5 Comments

  1. Nomsa says:

    Thank you for this article it help me to grow Spiritually, my faith has been also tested in such way that left me with many questions. I believed that if God could forgive Jacob and named Him Isirael then the same day I come to JUSUS I am forgiven.

  2. Elaine says:

    As I have grown older, I have not questioned to the degree the actions of people I now question.God has been very merciful to me, for I have made many mistakes and had sin rampant as a young girl. That sin is being raised up by others now and some of the response I have received is that of hard hearted people. Compassion and understanding is absent to the extent that many have committed suicide in my area and the response was cold like they deserved to die for their mistakes or depression. I have always believed in repentance, reconciliation, restoration, and redemption. Being attacked now at my age has totally unnerved me and my belief in people and kindness. So many seem to have the attitude that they do not sin. Isn't sin, sin? No matter if its gossiping, stealing or murder? My faith is suffering right now. To realize you have people who don't like you to the extent that they would do this to you is heart breaking. Your articles and guidance are a part of my lifeline right now. Thank you so much for all of them. I can always count on BGEA.

  3. Michelle says:

    Truths of God never grow old. Our church is helping the cause and rebuilding of Japan through Samaritan's Purse and Churches helping Churches (James McDonald). My prayer is they rebuild stronger for the Kingdom of Christ. Thank you for a great and uplifting article! We all need to be reminded of the promises of our True God and encourage each other to march on..John 16:33.

  4. Rebeca says:

    Thank you for this article. It help me to understand better and be more able to give an answer.

  5. Jessica says:

    We need more of these sites on FB,to explain and to provide some answers to questions that many people have towards tragedy in this world.