I know people who struggle with the idea of God because of how much pain and suffering there is all around us. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked “How do you believe in God when He isn’t healing you and He allows you to suffer?” For quite a long time I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer this question. The reality is that it is a valid question, one I’ve struggled with myself since my brain cancer diagnosis two years ago. But recently, God placed me on a path toward an answer.
Brain cancer is brutal and seriously under-talked about. It doesn’t wear a pink bow, but that doesn’t stop it from being the second leading cause of cancer deaths among children and young adults. Despite being responsible for so many deaths amongst our youth, there are currently only 4 FDA-approved brain tumor medications. Four. Let that sink in. Like with any other cancer, you’re bombarded with an onslaught of “treatments” such as radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and more chemo (all of which make you feel worse than before you began them). In the midst of never-ending appointments, drugs for symptom management, and just generally feeling pretty crummy, it is very easy to begin to question your faith.
It happened to me.
As I would lie on a metal table, with a custom-fitted mesh mask covering my face, bolted down so that I didn’t move as a targeted beam of radiation was aimed at my brain, I started to question my faith and belief in God. What “merciful” God would allow me to suffer this much? If it was punishment for something I’d done, well that’s one thing, but why allow that pain to extend to my family when they are merely innocent bystanders? Why wasn’t God healing me?
We all face that one thing that causes us to question God’s love for us, His faithfulness and His goodness. For me, it’s been cancer. For you it might be yet another miscarriage, bills you know you cannot pay, a broken relationship, or even the loss of a loved one. Whatever it is that is causing your pain, it can cause you to question God’s omnipotence. When you arrive at that crossroad, you have two options before you. Will you choose to believe that God cannot fix your situation because He isn’t really all-powerful or will you choose to believe that He is capable to take away your pain and suffering, but for reasons unknown to us simply doesn’t?
Even now, as I sit here writing this, having recently been told that I have six months left to live (five now, at the time of this post), I choose to believe in God’s omnipotence. Honestly, I don’t think that I could ever choose differently. As I began to receive peace about what’s happening to me, God began to whisper in my ear. He showed me a glimpse into what He was doing with my life.
I was reading the story in John 9 where Jesus heals a man who was born blind. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a quick summary:
Jesus and His disciples are walking along, and they encounter a man who is blind from birth. The disciples turn to Jesus and say, “God, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responds that it is neither the man’s fault nor his parents. The unfortunate situation happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. After answering the question, Jesus spit on the ground, making mud with his saliva, then took that muddy-spit mess and placed it onto the blind man’s eyes. He told the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man followed Jesus’ instruction, and to his bewilderment, he could see.
Although I’ve heard this particular story referenced many times, I’d somehow skipped over verses 3-4.
“Neither this man, nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.”
In a sense, God allows pain in order to display His power. Throughout the Bible we see the great struggle between God’s work and satan’s. Satan kills, steals and destroys, whereas Jesus has come to give us abundant life. The evil that God permits and the suffering and hardships caused by sin fit into God’s plan. All of creation was changed the minute that sin entered in. Sin opened the door for illness, death and disaster. As Jesus explained, neither the man nor his parents did anything to deserve the man’s blindness. They were permitted to endure suffering as a consequence of living in a fallen world, but in the end, God received the glory when the man was healed by Jesus’ hands.
You see, when God miraculously intervenes and heals us or miraculously makes a way when there is no possible way, He receives the glory. But He also receives glory when we endure suffering through the power of His grace.
“Therefore, in order to keep me from being conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Whether God perfoms a miracle and heals me or I die in five months,God is going to be glorified as the Giver of Life in a futile world. I am completely willing to believe in His unconditional love and forgiveness just as much as I believe in His omnipotence. He is our only hope, and hope breeds peace and strength to survive any suffering: cancer, illness, death, financial struggles, all of it. Hope allows us to continue on despite our circumstances and pain, and it enables us to further trust Him to sustain us through even the most unimaginable trials.
When you feel unable to believe, cry out to Him. Ask for His help. Turn your questions into prayers, and remember that while life will always have something new and scary to throw at you, God is stable, unchanging, and so faithful. He will wrap His arms around you and show you His undeniable omnipotence firsthand.
Stay well, my friends.