Last night on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” Seth Meyers reported, “The House on Tuesday passed a resolution that reaffirms ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States, though it just barely edged out, ‘God, Why Have You Forsaken Us?’”
Many Americans, myself included, frequently ask God this question. Obviously, the fact that I can now only afford a large pizza with a side of wings from Pizza Hut once a week instead of twice a week is solid evidence that God has turned His back on me and the rest of His American children. Since Americans are able to find the time and resources to occupy Wall Street and several other “streets” across the country, I’m convinced that God has most definitely forsaken us…and we truly are in dire straits.
Last night, I watched the Iowa Hawkeyes beat the Michigan Wolverines with some good friends. My buddy DVR’d the game, so we could watch it later than when it originally aired. I spent the day avoiding Facebook, network television, and espn.com in order to prevent seeing the scores and thereby ruining my evening. During a break in the game, my friend—not considering the peril into which he was venturing—changed the channel to watch some highlights on a live broadcast. Suddenly, the outcome of the game we were currently watching on DVR flashed across the screen. We both realized how detrimental seeing that score would be to the enjoyment of the evening, so we both simultaneously closed our eyes and yelled. His wife, amused by the absurdity of our antics, laughed and rolled her eyes. Thankfully, we avoided a First-World disaster—discovering the outcome of a college football game before we could see it occurring in live-action. Can you imagine the suffering…the outrage? It was a pure example of Americans being forsaken by God!
My son constantly blurts out, “It’s not fair!” In response, I usually say, “Really? You know what’s not fair? Kids in Africa who lost their parents to disease. Kids in India who live on dirt floors and have no idea when they’ll have their next meal. That’s not fair!” It usually results in my son not complaining for a few hours…which is nice and refreshing. However, upon reflection, I definitely need to take my own response to his complaints to heart. I’m often saying the exact same thing to God. “It’s not fair! If you love me, why do you let me suffer?”
This question that I ask causes a more general question to surface. Charles Templeton writes, “How can a loving God bear all the suffering in this world?” Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, answers Templeton’s question with two words, “He did!”
God, seeing the suffering of humanity, came down and jumped headfirst into it. Jesus Christ on the cross is God meeting us where we are. Jesus Christ, His personal anguish, desperate alienation, and eventual death on the cross is a pure demonstration of God’s love and concern for his suffering children. The story doesn’t end with the suffering. Often, we believe that it’s the end of the world while we struggle to endure suffering—or when we catch the outcome of a game were watching on the DVR. When Jesus died on the cross, His disciples believed it was the end of the world as they knew it. God seemed absent. God seemed powerless. God seemed dead. This is how we feel when we ourselves suffer. “Where are you God?” Even though it often isn’t comparable to the sufferings of those in the Third-World, our sufferings are still valid. It still isn’t fair.
Psalm 22 expresses this eloquently. So eloquently, Jesus yelled it from the top of his cross in a weakened condition. “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But as we know, Psalm 22 doesn’t stop with the suffering either. Where is the hope? Where is God? When we suffer there is no way we can find the good in it, but there is good in it. We may find it someday, or we may never discover it.
“In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
If we we’re to encounter the Disciples on the Saturday after Jesus’ death, I’m sure they would be asking, “What good could possibly come of this? Philip Yancy states that many of us live our lives on Saturday, the day in between the horror, death, and pain of Good Friday, and the victory over that pain on Easter. We live in Saturday asking: “Can we trust that Jesus can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes refugee camps, dishonest politicians, and inner-city ghettos. We seem to be constantly asking, “Will Sunday ever come?”
But it does! With Easter God showed that the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world ended up resulting in the very best thing that has ever happened. God’s death on the cross made it possible for God’s defeat of the grave and the redemption of humanity.
Eventually, we might find some good out of suffering, or some reasons that make sense of it. However, we can’t just throw that out to someone who’s suffering. It doesn’t work. When were in the midst of suffering, there seems to be no explanation. Even though as C.S. Lewis states, “we hear God the loudest and grow closest to God during suffering,” we sure don’t feel close to God while its going on. It isn’t until afterward when we recognize His presence and His purpose.
Peter Kreeft tells a great story to illustrate this idea:
“Imagine a bear in a trap and a hunter who, out of sympathy, wants to liberate him. He tries to win the bear’s confidence, but he can’t do it, so he had to shoot the bear full of drugs. The bear, however, thinks this is an attack and that the hunter is trying to kill him. He doesn’t realize that this is being done out of compassion.
Then in order to get the bear out of the trap, the hunter has to push him further into the trap to release the tension on the spring. If the bear were semiconscious at that point, he would be even more convinced that the hunter was his enemy who was out to cause him suffering and pain. But the bear would be wrong. He reaches this incorrect conclusion because he’s not a human being.”
There are some things we just cannot understand when it comes to the work and plan of God simply because we are not God. The problem of suffering is best expressed in the book of Job. Job is a righteous, God-fearing man, who has lost everything. His donkeys and oxen were stolen, servants stabbed and burned, his sheep were burned to a crisp, his camels were carried off, his sons and daughters were destroyed by a tornado, he was afflicted with painful sores all over his body, and sunk to the depths of despair. After trying to figure out why this was happening to him, after hearing idiotic advice from his friends, Job request an audience with God. He asks God, “Why are you allowing me, your servant Job, to suffer?” God simply responds with, “Who are you to question me? I’m God, and you’re not.”
Like the bear, we can’t understand God because we’re not God.
We will never totally understand the workings of God. Are we forsaken? Not at all. However, in the midst of suffering, we definitely feel forsaken. Our motto says, “In God We Trust.” We trust in a God who witnessed our suffering and entered into it. Jesus knows our brokenness…He was broken. Jesus knows our suffering…He died the death of a criminal. Jesus knows our hell…He descended into it. Jesus does offer us victory and hope…He conquered death and suffering that one glorious Sunday morning. We will never be forsaken again…for Jesus lives in us and through us. As it is confirmed daily—and will continue to be confirmed whenever we spend our money…it is in Him we offer our trust.