By Curtis Shelburne: CNJ Religion Columnist
We’ve all had times when through our pain and tears we ask, “Dear God, where are you? How could you let this happen? How long can you stomach this kind of atrocity before you break in and do something to stop it?”
Maybe it’s a senseless mass murder on the order of the 9/11 attack. Or maybe no famous skyscrapers have been felled but through the suffering or loss of someone you loved more than life itself, your whole universe has crashed in and you are amazed that the sun still comes up every morning as if nothing had even happened.
“Dear God,” you cry, “how can you be both all-loving and all-powerful and allow such pain and evil to endure?”
It is an excellent question. What’s harder for me to understand than why we ask such questions is why we wouldn’t, though even if God were to detail the reasons he allows pain (and miraculously enable us to comprehend), I doubt we’d like the situation more.
To skeptics who point to pain and say, “See! There is no God and there are no answers!” I’d say, “You are wrong.”
To Christians who far too quickly say, “Well, it was just God’s will, and real faith is happy to blindly trust and ask no questions,” I’d say, “I think you are wrong” even though I affirm with all my heart that faith is indeed all about trusting God. But it was God who made us capable of asking such questions.
Why does God allow pain? It’s one of the Top Few biggest questions of all. I think author Wendell Berry gives an important clue when he shows Jayber Crow, his main character in the book by the same name, mourning the loss of a young man from his little town killed in Vietnam. Jayber asks, “Why? Why didn’t God just come down and put an end to such horror?”
Then Jayber realizes the same question has been asked before. When God did come down, we hung him on a cross and taunted him, “If you really are God’s Son, come down!” As he showed us the depth of his love, we dared him, “Show us your power!” Thousands of times since, we’ve demanded the same thing, but “Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave.” Why?
Jayber says through tears, “I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it.” Why didn’t Christ come down from the cross? Why doesn’t God break in right now?
“He didn’t. He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.”
He loves us too much for that.
Where is God in our pain? Even when we hurt too much to believe it, God is hurting with us, grieving more deeply than we can possibly understand. In our darkest times, “God grieves and Christ’s wounds still are bleeding” because of his love.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at