Why do innocent children have to suffer with terminal diseases such as cancer? What part of ‘God’s plan’ is this exactly?
The question of evil and why there is suffering in this world is something we all struggle with, especially if you believe, (as I do), in an all knowing, and all powerful God. Romans 8:28 explains that everything works together for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him.
Well that sounds great, but to the unbeliever who has lost a parent, friend, or child to cancer it does little or nothing to comfort them. R. E. Pucket has a list of difficult questions you can find here, and this is number 6 on the list.
Some of the questions are legitimate, and others frankly seem silly, nevertheless I am working through them. The question of children suffering with painful and lengthy diseases such as cancer, and finally yielding to the illness, with a supposed purpose in mind, can be difficult for anyone to understand.
Mark Mittelberg said of Romans 8:28, “This is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible – and also one of the most abused. First, it does not say that everything that happens is good. Rather, it acknowledges the reality that many things that happen in our lives are bad, but it assures us that God can use them for good or bring good out of them.” 1
Furthermore, God does not promise us an explanation for the suffering we see and experience. For those of us who are, or have been, parents of little children, we do the best we can to explain why they have to get a shot at the doctor. Yet despite our comforting and explanations, the tears still flow, and until they are older, much of the discomfort they experience at the hand of a doctor or dentist is beyond their understanding.
After hearing of the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as an alcoholic have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before that operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.” 2
Finally, Romans 8:28 does not promise that all the bad we experience will bring forth good, but only those, “who love God and are called according to his purpose” can share in that promise.
Mittelberg supplies us with a short list of some of the good that can come out of suffering.
1. God can use pain to deepen our character.
2. He can use pain to reshape us as his sons and daughters.
3. He can use pain to give us a more spiritual and eternal perspective.
4. He can use pain to protect us from ourselves.
5. He can use pain to grab our attention and teach or redirect us in ways that will be important.
6. He can use pain to lead us to himself. 3
7. He can use pain to demonstrate His sacrifice for us.
I added number seven to the list because, without suffering, we would have no idea or understanding of Christ’s suffering on the cross for our salvation. Too many nominal believers have this concept of God as someone who does not want us to suffer. Their view is more like that of humans and their pets, as if the purpose of our lives is to be happy, while God just feeds us and takes care of us, when our actual purpose in life is to know God.
William Lane Craig put it this way, “One reason that the problem of suffering seems so puzzling is that people naturally tend to assume that if God exists, then His purpose for human life is happiness in this life. God’s role is to provide a comfortable environment for his human pets.” 4 The purpose God has for us in this life is not limited to what we experience here on earth. How our experiences in this life affect the life we have beyond this is anyone’s guess, but for the Christian, it is a comforting thought that cannot be shared by an unbeliever.
Just dwelling on that should give us as believers a sobering perspective. I recall years ago an old Star War episode when Darth Vader had captured Han Solo. They tortured him for a period of time and then returned him to his room. Han Solo’s comment was, “They never even asked me any questions.” If they had wanted some information, he would have at least seen a purpose to his suffering. Suffering for a purpose gives us all strength to endure, and those who see no purpose in suffering struggle in ways many of us cannot imagine.
Craig wrote, “The ‘health and wealth’ gospel and the gospel of positive thinking that are being proclaimed in various megachurches and denominations are false gospels…”5 He is right. Can you imagine preaching that message in the Middle East in the presence of ISIS or the Muslim brotherhood? It is a false gospel, as hollow and dry as an empty snail shell at the end of summer. The first moment of outside pressure will crush the thin shell of that lie. Craig went on to say, “If it won’t preach there, it isn’t the true gospel. We need to understand that God’s plan for human history may involve terrible suffering for us, whose point or reason we can’t expect to see. Our hope lies not in worldly happiness but in that day when God will wipe away every tear.” 6
Jeremy Begbie gave a lecture in the Veritas Forum at the University of Berkeley exactly one month after the 9/11 attack. He is a multimedia lecture-performer and actually specializes in the the interface between theology and music.
Begbie spoke about a time he was in a black South Africa township. He was told that just before the service a house around the corner had burned to the ground, the night before a teen who was a member of that church was hunted down and killed, and a week prior a tornado came through destroying homes and lives. The pastor began in prayer asking why these things were happening. Groans from the congregation could be heard with each question. When the prayer ended they began to sing. Begbie wrote, “They sang and they sang, song after song of praise – praise to a God who in Jesus had plunged into the very worst to give us a promise of an ending beyond all imagining. The singing gave that congregation a foretaste of the end. Christian hope isn’t about looking around at the state of things now and trying to imagine where it’s all going. It’s about breathing now the fresh air of that ending, tasting the spices and sipping the wine of the feast to come.” 7
1. Mittelberg, Mark. The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2010. Print
2. Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
3. Mittelberg, Mark. The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2010. Print
4. Craig, William L. On Guard. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010. Print
7. Willard, Dallas. A Place For Truth. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2010. Print
44 Questions Christian’s can’t answer by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.knowingforsure.com.