David L. Goetsch
Refuse to blame God for Your Suffering
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Growing in Faith When Life Hurts - PART 2
This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on growing in faith during times of adversity.
When bad things turn your life upside down, it is only natural to wonder, “Why did God let this happen?” You may be asking yourself this question right now. As Christians, we worship a God who is loving, kind, and compassionate. Consequently, even the most committed believers can be forgiven for asking, “If God is really loves me, why am I hurting so badly?” When you experience a tragic event or are suffering through hard times, it is easy to feel abandoned by God. Even Christ had that fleeting moment on the cross when He wondered if God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
As a Christian counselor, it is not uncommon for me to be asked, “Why did God let this happen?” I have seen Christians let sorrow, despair, and discouragement rob them of their faith and push them away from God. I have also seen Christians use these things to draw closer to God and grow their faith. Hard times and tragic events present us with a choice: We can either run from God or run to Him. The latter choice leads to hope, healing, and restoration. The former choice leads to anger, bitterness, and resentment. I recommend the latter. When life hurts, the first step toward restoration and growing in faith is to refuse to blame God for your suffering.
REFUSE TO BLAME GOD FOR YOUR SUFFERING
When you are suffering and there seems to be no end to the pain you feel—emotional, physical, or both—it is tempting to blame God. The problem with this kind of thinking is that when you blame God for your troubles you lose your best source of help for overcoming those troubles, the only source of help who can truly comfort, heal, and restore you. Instead of blaming God, it is better to accept the harsh reality that because of what happened in the Garden of Eden we live in a fallen world where sometimes bad things happen to good people.
Bad things do happen and to make matters worse, when adversity rains down it falls on believers and unbelievers alike. Your Christian faith is no guarantee against suffering. Christians suffer just as much and as often as unbelievers, maybe even more. Rather, your faith is a guarantee that when life hurts, you have a sanctuary available where hope, peace, and healing can be found. That sanctuary is the loving arms of Jesus Christ. He is always there waiting to help. This won’t happen, though, as long as there is anger in your heart toward God.
The guarantee just mentioned is recorded in Scripture in Romans 8:28. This verse assures us that “ …for those who love God all things work together for Good…” God gave us this assurance because He knew His children would have to suffer through grief, loss, betrayal, discouragement, and disappointment. He knew that in a fallen world, bad things were going to happen to His children. I understand that this explanation of why life sometimes hurts can be difficult to accept when your grief is still an open wound and your faith is faltering. It may not provide the relief, comfort, or peace you seek, at least not at first. This is how Nick felt the first time we talked.
When Nick approached me for help, he was in bad shape. His wife had been killed by a drunk driver. Nick was consumed by grief, bitterness, and anger. He grieved over the loss of his beloved wife, was deeply bitter toward the drunk driver who killed her, and felt angry at God for letting it happen. The first words out of Nick’s mouth were, “Why did God let this happen?” I thought Nick’s faith might be faltering, so I was prepared for this question. After we prayed, I told Nick that bad things sometimes happen to good people. I then pointed him to Romans 8:28. Nick wasn’t comforted by my response. His grief was still too raw.
He responded as hurting Christians sometimes do in heartbreaking situations: with bewilderment and anger. He asked in a voice filled with pain what good could possibly come from his wife being killed. Then he claimed, “I have always worshiped a God who is supposed to be good, loving, and just. Allowing my wife to be killed by a drunk is none of these things.” When I assured Nick that God is good, loving, and just, he muttered, “If God cared he wouldn’t have let this happen. Maybe he didn’t cause the accident to happen, but he could have prevented it. If he let it happen when he could have prevented it, I’ve been a fool for believing in him.”
This kind of reaction from even the most consistent Christians is not uncommon when they are hurting. It’s even understandable. You may have felt this way yourself at some point. In fact, you may feel this way right now. Even believers who understand that faith in God is no guarantee against life’s hardships can feel their faith faltering when life hurts. It is one thing to understand this hard reality intellectually but quite another to accept it emotionally. Your mind may say “yes” while your heart says “no,” at least for the time being. For Christians whose pain is still an open wound, there can be a lot emotional trauma to work through before Romans 8:28 will bring comfort, peace, and hope.
There is eternal life in the hereafter for those who love God, but in the here and now there will be trials and tribulation. God promises to work all things to the good for those who love Him, but he doesn’t promise us a life free of suffering. Christians are going to face adversity—all of us. It is almost guaranteed that at some point in your life, bad things are going to happen. If you are suffering or trying to help someone who is, restoration begins when you stop blaming God for your suffering.
I told Nick that when tragedy occurs in our lives, we can choose to run to God or run from Him. This applies to you too. Adversity points us to a life-changing fork in the road. If you turn to Christ in your suffering, that fork in the road leads to hope, healing, and restoration. If you turn away from Christ, that fork leads to bitterness, resentment, and hopelessness. When you are hurting, turning to Christ can be a difficult choice to make, especially if your faith is wavering. Nonetheless, the decision to turn to Christ or from Him is in your hands. It is your choice. With Christ there is hope, comfort, and eventually, restoration. Without him that gaping hole in your heart will be filled with anger, bitterness, and resentment.
I am neither surprised nor offended when a hurting brother or sister in Christ asks, “Why did God let this happen?” Like you and most Christians, I have experienced my share of sorrow. I have even asked this question myself at various points in my life. My father left us when I was in third grade, and then died when I was just 22. My older brother, who was my hero, died in a tragic automobile accident when I was still in high school. My mother died well before her time, and just a few short years later my younger brother died. Every member of my birth family died at a relatively young age.
I understand why some Christians feel abandoned by God when life knocks them down. I also understand the pain they have to endure before they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I learned at an early age that blaming God only prolonged suffering. It took me a long time to understand how my father leaving our family with no means of support and my older brother’s tragic death could possibly be used for good by God. But I finally came to realize that Romans 8:28 does not mean it was good that my father left us or that my brother died in an automobile accident. Rather, it means that God took these unfortunate events that were clearly not good and made sure some good came out of them. He used them for good when I stopped blaming Him and started looking for how he was using them in my life.
This was the message I tried to impress on Nick. Nick was a participant in a year-long leadership development program I ran through my college for rising stars in the local business community. The first time he approached me for help, as described earlier, was after one of our all-day sessions. That first meeting, as you have seen, didn’t go well. Nick was not comforted by the assurances from Scripture I shared. When we parted that evening, he was still blaming God for his suffering. Consequently, when we met again after the next leadership session, I decided to try a different approach.
I told Nick how my father had left my mother and two brothers when I was in third grade and how our family, as a result, went from a comfortable life based on a working-class income to a hand-to-mouth existence based on a poverty-level income. I told him that whereas some people talk about not knowing where the next meal would come from, my brothers and I often didn’t know if there would even be a next meal. I told Nick that my brothers and I became pariahs among our former friends because my parents’ divorce occurred in the old days when the practice was uncommon and still frowned on by society. It was as if we carried a communicable disease.
At the time I didn’t believe anything good could possibly come out of the breakup of our family. No longer able to afford our home in a nice, middle-class neighborhood, we had to move to a low-rent neighborhood, food became scarce, clothes came from the charity box at church, and my mother was hounded constantly by bill collectors. The sudden change in our lives was more than just shocking, it was demeaning. Before long I had Nick’s attention. He was finally listening. Nick asked, “What good could possibly have come from you and your brothers having to wear hand-me-down clothes, go without eating at times, and hide from bill collectors?”
Good question. I was an adult before the answer began to dawn on me. In fact, all these years later, I am still discovering ways that God used that bad situation for good. For one thing, it developed in me a strong work ethic. Because money was scarce and the bill collectors unrelenting, I learned how to work at an early age to help my mother make ends meet. Mowing yards, running errands, painting fences, washing cars, and even ironing clothes became part of my normal daily routine. I came to view work as a gift from God, a gift I appreciated and, as a result, tried to do in ways that honored Him. In any and every job I have ever had, one thing I was certain of was this: nobody would outwork me, a fact that has benefited my career over the years and still does.
My family’s circumstances after the divorce also gave me an abiding respect for education. I noticed that the people who were better off materially than my family were also better educated. At an early age, I came to view education as my ticket out of poverty. This view of education coupled with my work ethic eventually resulted in my completing seven college degrees—five of them graduate degrees and all of them helpful in my career. Nick, like all participants in the leadership program, had a copy of my biography. He knew about the college degrees, the books I had written, and everything else about my professional life. Now he understood the motivation behind these things.
These stories from my life seemed to register with Nick. For the first time since we started talking, he didn’t reject everything I said outright. I thought and prayed we had turned a corner. Unfortunately, as things turned out, Nick still had a long way to go. Rather than turning to God, he turned to drinking in an attempt to drown his sorrow. I didn’t see or hear from Nick for a couple of months. Then it happened. One night after a few too many drinks, Nick had an accident while driving home from the bar he had started frequenting.
Nick wasn’t injured, at least not physically, but he was badly shaken up emotionally. The day after the accident, Nick learned he came within inches of plowing into another car; a car occupied by a young mother and her infant child. But for the grace of God, Nick might have become like the drunk driver who killed his wife. The accident served as a wake-up call. The next time we talked, Nick was a different man. He wanted help and was open to receiving it.
It took the better part of a year, but Nick and I walked through his grief together. In the process, he had his ups and downs, his good days and bad. But eventually Nick was able to stop blaming God for his sorrow and start looking for the good things, no matter how small, that had come from his personal tragedy. He came to understand that although what happened to his wife was not good, God was using his sorrow in ways that were. Nick stopped drinking and became a more careful driver, but more importantly he used his experience to help others who were suffering in the aftermath of similar tragedies.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com