This past Christmas we enjoyed a wonderful time with family. Both of our sons were able to take leave from the Navy and returned home for the festivities. At the end of a Christmas day spent eating, drinking, and being merry…darkness fell. My mom disclosed she had breast cancer and would soon be undergoing surgery. You can imagine the feeling that seeped into our hearts and minds.
My step-father and I met a few days later at Starbucks to discuss my mom’s prognosis and outlook. It was emotionally difficult for both of us because his first wife had died of Colon cancer and my father of prostate cancer. We soon began discussing how human suffering fit in with God’s sovereignty and providence. It led me to ponder this question: If God is in control of everything, and He also loves us, then why do bad things happen? especially to Christians?
Admittedly, we don’t know exactly why. I think RC Sproul’s thought on this is honest and true: “I don’t know the solution to the problem of evil. Nor do I know of anyone who does. Ultimately it must be good that there is evil or evil would not exist. God is good and His providence extends to all things, including evil.”
The Providence of God
What do we mean by the Providence of God? The Heidelberg Catechism explains that Providence is the almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were, by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
I was struck the first time I caught the phrase “health and sickness.” Does this include cancer? As Christians, we have to say it absolutely does! If God is not in control of cancer, who is? If someone were to say “the devil” are we prepared to acknowledge a dualistic (equal) power between good and evil? Wouldn’t that essentially be affirming two Gods?
Thankfully, there’s only one God and He is sovereign (in control of all things). The Bible tells us Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6). Even when Satan afflicted Job with severe illness, he could only do it with God’s permission and within the parameters God set out (Job 2:5-7). God makes the final call in all things that happen. Even though the events that occur don’t always fit the script we’d write, somehow God is causing all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28).
The Love of God
Besides being sovereign over all events, God is love (1 John 4:15). He doesn’t just love us with a general benevolent feeling of love, John says he so loves us (1 John 4:11). He loved His people so intensely that He was willing to send His Son to die for them—not when their behavior was righteous, but when it was ungodly (Romans 5:6)
Everything God does is motivated by love and concern for His people. When you’re in the midst of suffering remember The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
I love this thought from Les Lanphere: “The one who loves you more than you can imagine is controlling the universe you live in.”
God loves His people in a way we cannot comprehend. He’s also in complete control of everything that happens. As RC Sproul said, there are no “maverick molecules” running loose in the universe.
So why do bad things happen?
If God is in control of everything, and He also loves us, then why do bad things happen? especially to Christians? It’s true that we could blame it on Adam’s original sin. It was this that brought death and suffering into the world. But the question would then be, “Why did He allow Adam to sin? Why did Adam want to sin?” To this, we must bow the knee and say we don’t know why. God is always good and just. There is no darkness or evil in Him. He had His reasons for this happening.
When we’re tempted to question God we need to remember it wouldn’t be right for a created thing to say to its creator Why have you made me like this? (Romans 9:6) We should be content to remember: Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34). God is God and we are a mere creature. God always does what is best.
In a way we can’t understand due to our creaturely near-sightedness, God is working on a beautiful tapestry that will only be fully realized in the New Heavens and New Earth.
I thought about this when visiting the Art Institute of Chicago earlier this Winter. As I stood very close to Claude Monet’s Cliff Walk at Pourville, I realized that if I just focused on the area below the cliff ledge, I would get the feeling of dark gloominess. If I just fixated on that one area it would be a depressing painting. But if I changed my perspective, and looked at the completed painting from a distance, it was one of the most beautiful and inspiring paintings I’d ever seen!
I think this is the most appropriate way to view the trials and sufferings we face in life. Some of life will be fulfilled with pain and suffering, but when we look back on our lives from an eternal perspective, we’ll see all of history as a beautiful painting of God’s design. As Paul says, our current sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed (Romans 8:18).
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
What is our only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, [He] so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Heidelberg Catechism (Question 1)
When you face harsh circumstances or a grueling illness, remember neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).