The Problem of Why

Richard DewBy Richard Dew10 Minutes

Excerpt from Chapter 2 “God and Grief” of When Sorrow Comes: What Can God, You, and Others Do to Help Cope with Grief? by Richard Dew

Chapter 2
God and Grief

The Problem of Why

Why did God take my child?

Why would a good and loving God allow a drunk driver to kill the father of my two small children?

Why did God let her die, and her drug dealer live?

Why are there dreadful, tragic situations in the first place? Does God cause them?

When a loved one dies, those left behind almost always ask, “Why?” I did.

But why what? What is it we want to know?

I think there are three whys people struggle with.

The first why is a metaphysical and, for believers, a theological why. Why did my loved one die? What purpose in God’s overall plan did their death serve? Where does their death fit into the great scheme of things? I gave up on this question quickly. I will never know why in this sense. I can just hope against hope my son’s death did serve some purpose. I dropped this why very quickly. Like me, you probably will not receive a satisfactory answer. There is, however, a constructive way to deal with it. I discuss this in chapter 3.

The second why is more personal. Why me? We all know people die. It’s thrown at us daily in the evening news. Tragedies occur. Illness, accidents, overdoses, suicides, and homicides happen. We say we understand. We would never admit it, but I think, deep down, most of us believe if we’re good people, go to church, tithe, pray, and love our neighbors, God will pay special attention and protect us and ours. Why else would we so often say, “It’s not fair,” when something bad happens. We realize bad things happen to others but not to us. I was jolted unceremoniously out of this why at a Compassionate Friends meeting. Thirty bereaved parents and I were struggling with the loss of our children. For some reason, I asked, “Why me?”

A woman who seldom spoke asked quietly, “Why not you?”

I had no answer.

The third why is the most troublesome. Why would a good, loving God allow evil, pain, suffering, and death in first place? Thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and common folk have labored with limited success to answer this question for millennia. After Brad’s death, I read the entire Bible twice. I read numerous books by people far wiser than I. I was still left wondering, But why?

I still don’t have the answer to this why. What follows are my thoughts as a layman that helped me through the worst spiritual crisis I have ever faced. I don’t vouch for their orthodoxy or even for their accuracy. To me, they seem reasonable.

The Bible is largely silent about this why. Read the book of Job. Job never gets a suitable explanation.

Jesus seems to accept the existence of evil, pain, and suffering without comment. When He was told of some Galileans Pilate had killed, He gave no explanation. He just said, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinner than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those 18 who died when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you will all perish” (Lk 13:2-5). He gave no explanations. He used it as an opportunity to call them to repentance.

Remember, Jesus is the one who said, “Blessed are they that mourn,” (Mt 5:4) accepting the fact of mourning without elaboration. He is the one who said: “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). He is also the one who suffered humiliation, pain, and death at the hands of evil men.

However, throughout his ministry, He provided His presence, help, comfort, and peace to those who mourned and were troubled. After His ascension, He left the Holy Spirit to continue these activities.

The nearest I can find He ever came to an explanation for evil, pain, and suffering is an enigmatic comment found in Matthew 19: 3-8. I may be reading too much into it, but it intrigues me. It dealt with the issue of divorce.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh?’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard”[—and here is the comment that intrigues me—]“but it was not this way in the beginning.”

I wonder if he could just as easily have said, “Because your hearts were hard, God allowed sin to enter the world. Because your hearts were hard, God allowed pain, and suffering, and disease to enter the world, but it was not this way in the beginning.” Food for thought.

It seems to me that the problem of evil, pain, and suffering comes about primarily from three sources.

The first is free will. We are created in the image of God. What is that image? How are we different from a hermit crab, a dog, or a chimpanzee? We can reason. We can speak. We can think both practically and abstractly. We have a sense of the divine. Some animals have a limited ability to communicate and problem-solve, but it remains rudimentary. I think, however, the way we are most like God and different from all other creatures is our freedom of self-determination, our free will. God can do whatever He wants. To a great degree, so can we. It appears our free will is the one thing God allows us to control with little interference. The fact that something bad happens to me does not mean it is God’s will. It may be the will of an evil or careless person.

A second source of evil comes from our being fallen creatures. Whether it is due to the original sin of a historical Adam or each of us individually choosing to be our own god, the result is the same. We inevitably choose to rebel and be our own god and do wrong. Regardless of how it came about, we are a fallen people. We separate ourselves from God. We take His place. But it was not this way in the beginning.

Paul says all creation is fallen. Perhaps natural disasters, hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis are the result of a universe thoroughly saturated with sin. But it was not this way in the beginning.

A third source of evil, pain, and suffering is Satan. This is not fashionable to say in our modern, secular, scientific age, but some evils—the Holocaust, 9/11, child predators—are unexplainable except by some satanic force at work. I think we should be careful of dismissing Satan too easily. Jesus took him very seriously.

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