Where Is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?
Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself?
Trouble suffocates me. Worry entangles me. By night I can’t sleep, by day I can’t rest. The burden of suffering is intolerable. Where is God? Does He know, or are my prayers heard only by the wall? Is He near, or somewhere distant, only watching?
If you hurt enough to ask such questions, you deserve an answer.
Some people think that you don’t. You’re sick, you’re dying, you’ve been deserted, you’ve lost a child, you’re innocent but accused of wrongdoing — and they try to shush you. Their intentions may be good, but they are hard to bear. “Don’t question God’s ways; He might hear you.” In my cry of anguish, don’t I want Him to hear me?
“It’s probably for your own good.” If I’m to be tormented for my own good, don’t I get a say in the matter? “I’m sure there’s a good reason.” No doubt there is, but did I ask for a philosophical explanation? What I asked is “Where is God?”
Even worse are the people who say, “You’re being unfair to God. It isn’t His fault. If He could have kept your trouble from happening, He would have, but He couldn’t. God is just as helpless as you are, and He weeps to see your sorrow.”
No. If God is really God, then He could have stopped it; if I’m suffering, then He could have stopped it but didn’t.
I may be baffled by Him, I may be frustrated by Him, but the God I want to hear from is the God who rules the world. I’m not interested in a God who is “not responsible.”
Some Comforters, Some Religion
Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself? I am weary of my comforters, tired of His defenders. I want God to answer me in person. If only I could state my case before Him and hear His answer!
There was once a man who did that. His name was Job. He too was plagued with so-called comforters and defenders of God, but he demanded a hearing from God Himself, and God answered him. The history of the incident is told in great detail in the Bible.
Job is blameless and upright, a man of such integrity that even God likes to show him off. If anyone deserves blessings, Job does. Yet one day God puts him to the test. Job”s life falls to pieces; calamity of every kind descends upon him.
Raiders sweep his fields; his livestock are captured or destroyed; his servants are put to the sword; a house collapses on his sons and daughters and kills them all.
Disease strikes him, and he is covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In all this, he submits patiently to God, only to be mocked by his wife, who tells him to “curse God and die!” Friends arrive, and still he is patient. For days they sit with him in silence, seeing how greatly he suffers.
A Torrent of Grief
Finally Job can contain himself no longer. In a torrent of grief and protest, he cries, wishing that he had never lived. He doesn’t curse God, but he curses the day he was born. The terrible curse demeans all the previous good in his life; it implies that his joy, his home, his peace, and the lives of his children had never meant a thing, just because now they are gone.
This is too much for Job’s friends, and they rebuke him. On and on they lecture him; they cannot scold enough. Suffering, they say, is punishment for sin. The greater the sin, the greater the suffering. Since Job is in agony, he must have done something terrible to deserve it. Obviously, then, he is covering up.
He only pretends to be just; he is really a hypocrite. If only he would confess and take his punishment, God would forgive him and relent — but instead, like a fool, he complains.
To hear these accusations is unbearable to Job. He rages in grief, defending himself and denouncing his friends. Against God, his complaints are even more bitter — and inconsistent. One moment he wants God to leave him alone, the next moment he wants Him to listen.
One moment he declares himself guiltless, the next moment he admits that no man is. Yet through it all, he insists that his suffering is undeserved, and he demands that God give him a hearing.
Answer in a Whirlwind
In the end, Job gets his hearing. God answers from the heart of the whirlwind. He doesn’t pull His punches, and the encounter is overpowering. Meeting God turns out to be nothing like just hearing about Him. But Job is satisfied.
There are two amazing things about this face-off. The first is that God never explains to Job the reason for his suffering. In other words, it isn’t because God answers Job’s questions that Job is finally satisfied. In fact God asks questions of His own: Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth?
Can he bind the stars of the constellations? Job has challenged the Creator of the mind, but does he comprehend even the mind of the ostrich? Job confesses, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know”
The second amazing thing is that God does not side with Job’s friends. He sides with Job. It seems impossible. Wasn’t Job God’s accuser? Weren”t his friends God’s defenders? But there cannot be any mistake. Even though God humbles Job, not once does He express anger toward him. Yet toward his friends,
God declares that His anger blazes out. He says that He will not forgive them until Job has prayed for them. And why? Because they have not spoken the truth about Him, “as my servant Job has”!
What truth could Job have spoken? Didn’t he just admit that he hadn’t known what he was talking about?
Not All Suffering Is Our Fault
Yes, but about one thing Job was right: He didn’t deserve what was happening. Not all suffering is our fault. We do bring some suffering upon ourselves: Adulterers destroy their homes, drunks their livers, wasters their wealth. Yet the innocent suffer too.
Dreadful things happen, things we don’t deserve, things that seem to be senseless. This is why God sides with the sufferer, even in preference to those so-called defenders who merely “explain away” the pain.
In His justice, God understands that this will seem unjust to us. He does not even try to give us “answers” that we could not understand. Instead, He visits us, as He visited Job. Is He not God?
He is a better answer than the “answers” would have been. Indeed, He is the only possible answer. Though we find ourselves buried in a deeper dark than night, from the midst of the whirlwind, He speaks.
You may object, “What good is it for God to visit me? He’s not the one drowning in troubles; I am. You say God sides with the sufferer,” but these words are meaningless. God can’t suffer with me. He only watches.”
But there is more. The story of Job is not God’s last word. Nor is it His last deed.
Let’s face it. In all our thoughts about suffering, we have sidestepped the main issue and focused on the secondary issue. To be frank, we human beings are wrecks. The external troubles that we blame on God are the least of our suffering. Something worse is wrong with us, and it is wrong with us inside.
One writer describes the problem as a “deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality.” What we want to do, we don’t. What we don’t want to do, we do. We not only do wrong, but call it right. Even the good things in us become polluted. We may long to love purely, but our desires turn into idols that control us.
We may long to be “blameless” like Job, but our righteousness turns into a self-righteousness that rules us. We may long to be reconciled with God, but we can’t stop wanting to be the center of the universe ourselves.
Can’t Repair Ourselves
Not only are we broken, but we can’t repair ourselves. Could you perform surgery on your own eyes? How could you see to do it? Suppose you tore off both hands; could you sew them back on? Without hands, how could you hold the instruments? Our sin-sickness is something like that. Many philosophies teach about right and wrong with pretty fair accuracy.
What they can’t do is heal the sin-sickness. However true, no mere philosophy can do that. Our cancer requires more than a philosophy. What it requires is the divine surgeon, God Himself, and the name of His surgery is Jesus Christ.
Jesus was God Himself in human flesh — fully God, but fully man. Most people have heard that He taught, performed miracles, healed the sick.
Most people have heard that He was executed on a Cross and rose again. What is less well known is what this was all about.
Did someone say God doesn’t suffer? In Jesus, God suffered. That was why He became one of us — to suffer for us. Even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus identified with us so completely that He took the burden of our inward brokenness
— our sin and sin-sickness — upon Himself. He understands it all, because He bore it all — the whole weight of it, all for us. By dying, He took it to death; by rising, He opened for us a way, through Him, to life.
There was no other way for God to help us. He bore real agony, bled real blood, died real death. On the Cross, even He felt alone. When He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” it was for us
All this He saw coming from afar, and He accepted it on our behalf. He paid the price that we cannot pay, He bore the burden that we cannot bear. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He says, “and I will give you rest”
This is not a fable; it actually happened, and it is really true. If we trust Him as our price-payer, as our sin-bearer, then through Him we give up our broken life and receive His own life in its place. Then no suffering can be meaningless, because it is lifted up into His own suffering and redeemed.
Did you read the catch? “If we trust Him.” Can you do that? Can you do it utterly, without reserve? Can you give up the ownership of yourself, and transfer the title to Him? If something in your heart is an obstacle — some fear, some pain, some pride — can you at least ask Him to remove it?
Who Created God? Where Did He Come From?
People continue to ask age-old questions about the origin of God. Who created God? - that is assuming that He does exist? Where did He come from? How did He get to be God? Did He have a beginning? Did He have parents?
Nobody Created God
The Biblical answer is that nobody created God. He is by nature the eternal God. He was not created at all. He always was, is, and always will be. He did not work Himself up into a position to be God neither did He inherit the position from His parents, for He had no parents-no mother, no father. He has no beginning and will have no end. The fact that God is eternal is stressed in the Bible. The psalmist wrote
Even from everlasting to everlasting you are God"(Psalm 90:2).
For I lift my hand to heaven, and say, as I live forever (Deuteronomy 32:40).
God Is Uncaused
Therefore God is uncaused. This, of course, is a problem, because we think that every affect has a cause. Therefore, we assume God must also have a cause.
As a starting point, one must assume a first cause or else no cause whatsoever. If God is denied as always existing, then one must assume that something material has existed from all eternity.
This material would have come about without a cause. Therefore our choice is between an intelligent being who is self-existent and lifeless matter.
Does This Beg The Question?
Some might argue that these statements "beg the question" for they are assuming what they should be proving. They conveniently start with God but do not explain the how or why of His existence.
But ultimately we must admit that there had to have been something in the beginning whether it be God or something else. The starting point, according to the Bible is God. God was in the beginning and everything stems from Him.
This is not inconsistent with what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture nor is it inconsistent with our understanding about the origin of the universe.
The Bible states that it is an infinite, personal God. The only other choice is to argue that some sort of material has existed eternally. Consequently one must choice between an infinite personal God who has always existed or lifeless impersonal matter
Where did God come from? Don’t we have to assume that if there is God, then there must have been something before Him that created Him?
These questions assume that everything, including God, is subject to the limitation of time and space, an assumption that the scientific community has questioned and virtually dismissed since Albert Einstein first published his special theory of relativity in 1905. Einstein demonstrated how time and space are not absolute and that the perception of time is dependent on one’s frame of reference. For example, he showed how the rate of a moving clock would appear to decrease as its velocity increases.
Even absolute time has been excluded from modern physical reasoning because it cannot be measured by human means. This widely accepted scientific postulate suggests that the common frame of reference that all things originate and operate within the context of fixed time and space — that nothing, therefore, exists outside of time and space — is not necessarily correct.
While this context does not make the concept of eternality a simple notion to grasp, the facts do make it easier to accept the biblical teaching that God does in fact exist outside of time and space as we know them. And Einstein’s theory only seems to corroborate the biblical perspective of time:
“For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4).
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” .
To accept that God exists outside the framework of time and space as we know it renders any question of what came before Him irrelevant. These questions might be legitimate if God is subject to our constraints of perception, which He is not.
The Bible teaches that God is not bound by time or space, and that He simply has not chosen to reveal to us all that took place before He created the universe.
Moreover if God is all-loving and all-powerful, why hasn’t he shown himself to the world?
He’s all loving: why would he leave any room for doubt?
He’s all-powerful: why not reveal himself in the most spectacular of ways that would make unbelief impossible?
I’ll start by admitting that the argument from the hiddenness of God is a reasonable objection; and I’ll also admit that there are days when I wonder to myself in exasperation, “God where are you?”
I think it’s a fair question; but just because a question is fair does not mean it’s irrefutable. Good questions often have good answers; and I think this particular question of God’s hiddenness has, in return, some reasonable answers.
This is really an objection regarding an absence of evidence for God. Surely you’ve heard it said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; but this isn’t always true. Absence of evidence can be good evidence of absence if:
We should expect more evidence than we find. (Should there be more evidence?)
We exhaust all possible ways of investigation for evidence. (Have we done enough looking around?)
But my contention is that God has provided sufficient evidence for reasonable belief thorough investigation reveals good evidence for God’s existence. In other words, the obscurity of God’s presence in the world is not sufficient evidence to prove that God does not exist.
Here are a few points to consider:
First, God is not entirely hidden. He just doesn’t appear today in a way directly accessible to the physical senses, as your friends, spouse, or boss do. But discovery by bodily experience is only one way to learn truths.
The problem with the major premise is that it assumes we can know exactly what it’s like to be God; and more specifically what it’s like to reason as God. But to think with omniscience and act with omnipotence as the eternal Creator is outside of our limited human experience. We cannot fill God’s shoes, nor can his “brain” fill our heads. As G.K. Chesterton remarks in Orthodoxy:
The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
God may have good reasons for his “hiddenness” that we just don’t see. But this doesn’t mean we can’t make logical inferences and get partway to a good explanation. We just can’t arrive at a full explanation apart from God’s direct revelation.
Third, God desires man to seek him. We know this because he said it:
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7-8)
This is not a direct promise from God that he will grant everything at our immediate request, like a genie in a bottle. But God promises providence to all who acknowledge him with trust—like a father to his child—that he will give us what we ask for (provided that we ask for what is good for us).
A twelve-year-old atheist might pray a desperate prayer to God in hopes that God will reveal himself—but in the end may not “find” God until he is eighty-six years old and minutes away from physical death. Another twelve-year-old atheist may pray the same prayer and be knocked onto his knees at the moment he says “Amen.”
Why God seems to answer some prayers immediately, and not others, is a mystery. Likely it is often ourselves—and not God—who stand in the way of God’s immediate “delivery of the goods.” Or it may be that God desires for us to struggle for a while—perhaps for a long while—that we might grow or be improved in some way.
God is not interested in numbing us from all pain and suffering in this life. Christianity is not a get-out-of-suffering-free card. God is interested in granting us eternity, free of all suffering and pain and illuminated by unimaginable joy, in the next life: in life after death in heaven, and life after life after death at our bodily resurrection.
The more we seek God, the more he’s likely to reveal himself. The more he reveals himself, the more we’ll come to know him. Remember Aslan’s words to Lucy in Prince Caspian,
“Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
Fourth, it may be that God desires only those who seek him to see him. This was Blaise Pascal’s best guess. God has revealed himself in such a way, posits Pascal, that those who seek him sincerely will indeed find him, but those who do not seek him will not. He writes:
It was not, then, right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him.
He has willed to make himself….appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart. He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not.
Fifth, there are sufficient reasons to believe in God despite his “hiddenness.” There are good reasons to believe in God and these reasons drive our hope. God is hidden now; but not forever, provided we persevere in faith and love to the end
St. Paul writes that “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20).
Vatican I confirmed that we can know God exists through reason alone. And the point is this: we cannot see God directly in nature—but we can see his footprints, as it were.
St. Thomas Aquinas developed this idea and demonstrated the truth of St. Paul’s claim in the thirteenth century, particularly in his Summa theologiae and Summa contra gentiles building upon the intellectual foundation of pagan philosophers like Aristotle and Plato.
If the universe had a beginning (as many scientists, both atheist and believer, are willing to grant), there are good explanations for it. The kalam cosmological argument and Leibniz’s argument from contingency give air-tight philosophical explanations for how the universe must have a cause that is eternal, spiritual, all-powerful, and intentional.
Furthermore, logical incoherencies of an actual infinity of past events make an eternal universe improbable. But even if the world was eternal, according to Aquinas’ arguments the world still needs and explanation outside of itself—an explanation that points to a being who looks very much like God.
Thus, the origin of the universe (and the vastly improbable life-permitting universe we find ourselves in) give us good reasons to believe in an all-powerful Creator; and the argument from objective morality suggest that God is, in fact, all-good and the standard of all goodness.
God has given us good reasons to believe in an intelligent Creator; and indeed these reasons have convinced most through the ages. We might thus ask the atheist: On what basis should we expect more evidence from him?
Sixth, God may not want to “scare” us into belief. Perhaps God has given us just enough evidence of himself to keep us interested in him, that we might continually seek him. A direct revelation of God that cannot be denied may just scare people into obedience. But God wants obedience from his children out of love, not out of fear. Seeing God is not to have faith in him.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (Jas 2:19)
Seventh, God’s hiddenness allows us to help one another to believe. This explanation has been proposed by philosopher Richard Swinburne. God has revealed himself enough so that many people have come to believe—the Church has not tired. But many people are tired because they do not have hope.
God’s hiddenness gives believers an opportunity to have compassion, and to grow in virtue, particularly towards unbelievers. It provides an opportunity to evangelize, to grow in patience, gentleness, and reverence, and to grow in faith ourselves by responding to tough skeptical objections.
If God’s existence was obvious to the whole world, apologetics and evangelization might look a lot different than it does.
Eighth, the testimony of miracles are temporary events where God does in fact reveal himself in a more accessible way. There are many miracles described in the Bible.
But miracles—events in nature that require a supernatural explanation—are not a thing of the past.
David Hume believed that miracles were not part of human experience; but scholar Craig Keener begs to differ. Keener has assembled a massive two-volume work demonstrating that, in fact, millions of people even today claim to have experienced a miracle through belief in God
Of course, testimony itself doesn’t prove the validity of the claim, but based on the numbers it very well could be that at least one of these is a true miracle. (Indeed, there are many accounts of atheist investigators, medical specialists for example, who are hired to investigate and become believers as a result of their findings.)
It only takes one miracle to show God’s existence. And as long as God’s existence remains possible, miracles remain possible.
Ninth, an apparently supreme and undeniable manifestation of God’s existence may not guarantee “God did it.” A “sign in the sky,” for example, could be aliens playing a prank on us. Sounds silly. How would you know for certain it wasn’t?
A much more convincing manifestation of divine existence would be God actually dwelling among us in the flesh; but would this guarantee faith in those who encounter him?
Tenth, God has revealed himself to us directly. He did so in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was born of a virgin, possessed inexplicable wisdom (even as a child) that shocked the “educated,” turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes, prophecied and fulfilled prophecies, calmed storms, performed exorcisms,
Restored the dead to life, triggered radical conversions, performed countless physical healings, loved like only God could love, died a terrible death on the cross after being scourged half to death
—and finally, rose from the dead in a glorified body that could pass through walls yet still eat broiled fish.
Jesus claimed to be the one God of the Israel—the one God of the universe—and gave the people he encountered every reason to believe it. Yet people still disbelieved firmly; even firmly enough to execute him in the end.
Maybe God knows that a more obvious—even blatant—presence in the world right now wouldn’t be the “Ah ha!” moment many skeptics believe it would be.
M I Ro