Reconciling God’s Goodness with Our Suffering
I’ll never forget it.
I can never unsee it and I can never unfeel it.
The pain of watching the ultrasound tech search for that once-obvious baby while contractions pulsed and tears filled my eyes, was one of the most traumatic things I’ve experienced both physically and emotionally.
The anxiety caused my body to shake uncontrollably as three words slipped from my lips.
“There’s nothing there.”
Just one week prior, my baby’s heartbeat was flickering on that screen as my heart overflowed with hope and gratitude. But now, the Lord had chosen to take that life away. And I was left with an empty womb, a head full of theology and a heart still asking, “Why Lord?”
The Answers Won’t Suffice
“Why?” is a silly question for a sovereign God. At times we may ask it from a humble heart, but other times it jumps off our tongue as a demand for answers. God may graciously give some of the answers we’re seeking, but many times we’re left wondering. In the midst of grief, those answers tend only to bring more pressing questions rather than comfort to our souls.
We recognize that God is sovereign, but how can he be good when what we’re facing is so very bad? In our effort to find a reason for our heartbreaking reality, we search for the writing on the wall or a sign to explain our pain. But what about when the answers we find, or the lack there of, leave us feeling abandoned and clawing at the heart of God, begging for understanding? Or what about when the trials we face tempt us to doubt or even—God-forbid—ponder abandoning him?
Recently, a reader shared with me her struggle with Reformed Theology because it’s hard to swallow that God could be in control over the suffering she’s faced. If God is both sovereign and good, how do we reconcile those attributes with our suffering? How do we scoop up our broken heart and lay it at the feet of the God who allowed it to be crushed?
Tyrant or Powerless?
All of God’s attributes flow perfectly together, never contradicting one another. I’m not sure if there are any of them more difficult for the human mind to harmonize than his sovereignty and his goodness
Many believe that the Lord is fully sovereign with little sympathy for our pain. Others think he has little control over the happenings of the world he created, but feels sorry for us. He’s either a tyrant or a powerless God just trying to clean up the mess. However, neither of these descriptions are found in Scripture.
Good and Sovereign
The God of the Bible is shown to be perfectly sovereign and perfectly good.
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3 ESV)
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8-11 ESV)
Nothing that passes into your life surprises God. He has a purpose for all things and that includes our suffering. He has promised his children that he will use our trials, sickness, pain and heartbreak for our good. (Romans 8:28). Better is it to have a fully powerful God who is always working on our behalf than to have one who has no power over this fallen world.
His power, though, is not separated from his loving-kindness.
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1 ESV)
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9 ESV)
God’s sovereignty and goodness are easily discovered in the pages of his word. They are not at odds with each other.
He Leads Us
Everything we face is in the sovereign plan of a compassionate God. Sometimes his compassion for us leads us down paths that are most excruciating, but this doesn’t alter his goodness.
Before I became pregnant with our first baby, the Lord called to mind Psalm 23:6, which says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” In his sovereign wisdom, God led me to meditate on the truth that all he brings into my life, no matter how grim it may appear to my earthly eyes, is his goodness and mercy to me. He knew the path he had placed before me, and he made sure that I would be equipped to walk it in his strength, knowing he was with me.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3 ESV)
There will be a time when God will lead each of us down a path that looks unfair, overwhelming, and filled with despair. We must remember that these paths are paths of righteousness and fruitfulness. They are paths meant to heal us and not harm us. Furthermore, our Lord doesn’t forcefully push us down these hard roads. Instead, he does so gently.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He is gentle and kind. He knows us, carries us, delivers us, comforts us, keeps us close, rejoices over us, and leads us. (Zephaniah 3:17; John 10:14; Isaiah 40:11)
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11 ESV)
Where Comfort is Found
I stood in the bathroom as another wave of grief poured over me. Mindlessly, my hand drew near to my stomach as I felt the deep emptiness caused by death in the womb. I cried out to the Lord again with my “why’s” and “what if’s”.
I wonder if you’ve been there? Have you questioned the ways of the God of the Universe? Have you said, “Wasn’t there another way you could have taught me this?!”
I have. I’ve melted under the weight of my trial and accused God with Job, saying, “Let the Almighty answer me!” (Job 31:35).
His answer was Psalm 23. The Holy Spirit reminded me that God is perfectly sovereign, perfectly wise, and perfectly good. Though at the time I could have thought of a hundred different ways I would have done things, I am not God. Nor am I sovereign, wise, or good. And today, three miscarriages and one earthly child later, I can confidently say that I have gazed upon the goodness of the Lord in my suffering. Therefore, I can trust that my God will always choose not just a better path, but the best path for my life. He chooses the one that will bring me the most good and him the most glory (Romans 8:28; Psalm 23:3). I’ve seen his faithfulness to me in suffering and this helps me trust him with future trials that may come.
True comfort is found when we surrender our hearts fully to the good plan he has for us, even if it involves pain. It’s found by humbly laying those questions we have at his feet and leaving them there. It’s found in our daily choice to believe the truth that whatever we are facing, whether it be loss, singleness, poverty, physical illness or any other trial, God is still in control and immensely good. Whatever comes into your life today and every day is his goodness and mercy to you.
Oh friends, what comfort we have in Christ! We can trust him. He is sovereign and he is so very good.
“He is my God though dark my roadSweet Comfort by Sandra McCracken
He holds me, I shall not fall
Whatever my God ordains is right
To him I leave it all.
Sweet comfort, sweet comfort
Yet shall fill my heart”