For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:20-23
I’ve got a growing list of questions for God when I meet Him in glory. Maybe you do as well. These are questions which I honestly do not expect to have answered this side of Heaven, but which just bother me. A little. I am honestly OK not knowing the answers in this life. I think that is part of our calling to be more and more childlike in our faith. But eventually, I really would like some answers.
I’ve got some questions, but none of my questions are more troubling than those I have heard from hurting people in the midst of unspeakable pain. As a church leader, you know the questions I mean. I hear them from people grieving the loss of a loved one, or from people lamenting their terminal disease diagnosis, or from people just generally trying to understand the utter and complete brokenness of the world in which we live. You know the questions. They all begin the same way: “Why would a loving God…?”
“Why would a loving God ever allow a child to suffer?” “Why would a loving God permit really good people to die really horrible deaths?” “Why would a loving God allow a person to be born into slavery, knowing that he/she will live and die in that same slavery?” “Why would a loving God permit prejudice and racism and starvation and pestilence and tidal waves and hurricanes and ebola and wars and sex trafficking and child pornography and, and, and…etc.” These are the hard questions, right? They test our theology. They prolong our grief. They crack open the door for the enemy to enter in and to begin to suggest that, just maybe, God is not as loving as we think. These questions, if we are not careful, can take us down a dark path to a dark place. If you are not so sure about this, try this little experiment: open your web browser and google the term “ex-Christian” and spend a few minutes reading and experiencing the darkness. It is frightening.
I learned a long time ago one way to answer this question for a hurting person: “I do not know.” Truth is, there are no really good answers and this level of transparency is at least appreciated by most people. I have always thought my “ministry of presence”, just being near my hurting friend (as opposed to having much wisdom to offer) may be the best thing I can do for them under these circumstances. So, “I don’t know” seems safe. But it is not entirely true. Not really. I actually do know why such painful things happen to us. Scripture tells us. The problem is, people who are hurting are often not capable of hearing and processing the answer.
The world is horribly broken. It is not evolving. Due to its brokenness, it is actually devolving. This is its trajectory, its growing condition, until Jesus returns. It is a condition our sovereign God has permitted, because God intends to use it for the glory of His coming kingdom. Eugene Peterson says it this way in his paraphrase of Romans 8:22-25 The Message:
The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
So there it is. Painful things happen to us in this world because all of creation is preparing to “give birth” to the glorious kingdom that is coming. And all of this pain therefore brings great hope! Yes, the pain is unbearable for now…utterly and indescribably so. But “In That Great Gettin’ Up Mornin'”…
Jesus is coming back.
And the pain will go away.
For now, painful things will keep happening. And the pain will continue to cause us to question why. But we may or may not really want to know why. Because the pain.