|N SABBATH SCHOOL CLASS WE DEALT WITH THE ANCIENT QUESTION OF THE Israelites’ wilderness complaints. Why the thirst, Lord? Why the hunger, Lord? Why this? Why that? Why the other?
From our lofty perch millennia later our usual disdainful question is: after seeing God work so miraculously for them, how dare the Jews complain so much? Though perhaps a subconscious (or maybe not so sub-) desire to defend my ancestry, I argued that, maybe, it was precisely because they had seen so much of God’s power that they complained as they did.
Think about it: for atheists, agony is just what’s what in a meaningless and pointless cosmos, a chance conglomeration of matter and void, out of which humanity arose. Pain and suffering, joy and happiness are merely different nerves firing different chemicals in different parts of the brain. And none of it means a thing in an existence where, to quote Albert Camus, we are “defeated in advance,” a creation that cares not a whit about us or our nerve endings.
That’s, of course, an atheist perspective. But what about those who have known and experienced for themselves not only the reality of God but His goodness, mercy, and love? “But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (Jer. 9:24).
Sure, belief in God gives comfort in times of suffering and trial. But, like antimatter to matter, there’s a flip side: who hasn’t, amid their sufferings, wondered: If God’s so good, so powerful, so loving, why are these things happening? If there were no God, we could just chalk up sorrow to tough luck in a cosmos where cold chance is king. But the Israelites had seen the plagues fall on Egypt; they had seen God split the Red Sea; they had seen the miraculous provision of manna; they had seen the cloud by day, the fire by night, and water flow from a rock. Maybe, then, because they had seen such mind-boggling displays of God’s power, they complained, Lord, if You could do all these things, why are we so thirsty?
Who, having experienced in a real and undeniable way God’s love, hasn’t asked something similar amid inexplicable suffering? I know that God is real; I see evidence of His existence, power, and love everywhere; and at times I have experienced His providential love for me, personally, in dramatically unmistakable ways.
Job knew that love; so did John the Baptist. Yet look what happened to them. So, out of one’s personal knowledge of God’s love, is it not reasonable to ask, Why, Lord, all this suffering? Doesn’t our knowledge and experience of God’s love make the suffering, if not worse, at least harder to explain?
Of course it does. Yet no matter how many souls I see—beaten, battered, broken souls—not one has been more beaten, battered, and broken than was Jesus on the cross, our Lord who bore corporately the pain that we know only individually. Love demands freedom, freedom demands risk, and at the cross our Creator suffered the results of that risk in ways none of us ever could or will.
Long ago I quit seeking to understand evil and suffering. Even in the context of the great controversy it’s a fruitless venture, one guaranteed to drive you mad. All I know is that a God who would take upon Himself all our sin is a God I can trust and love, despite my immersion amid a planet wired through and through with nerves that sizzle and snap like downed electric wire.
There’s a time, we’re told, for everything under the sun; even (I suppose) for complaining to God. But remember that the God we’re complaining to is the one who hung on a cross for us; the God who—through bearing all our sorrow in Himself—offers us the promise of redemption, of eternal life. Otherwise, we have nothing but pain and suffering that ascend no higher than the choking spasms of our vocal cords, sounds forever entombed in the silence of the infinity above.