All beautiful places in this world. All filled with innocent people whose lives were changed in an instant.
The question posed by so many people is, “Where is God in all of this?” And too often they resolutely state, “I just can’t believe in a God who lets innocent people suffer and die.”
Have you asked that question or made that statement? Let me share my heart with you to shed some different light on these unsettling times.
When God made Adam and Eve and placed them in a beautiful garden to live He gave them so many wonderful gifts! There was food galore—fresh fruit and vegetables! God provided the first “fast food” as Adam and Eve could simply look to their right or left and choose from a variety of produce options. Flowers and trees most likely overwhelmed their senses. Water was plentiful from four rivers that flowed through the garden. The rhythm of life was set in motion with the sun and moon carrying out their roles to create day and night.
But this wasn’t all, God also gave Adam and Eve the beautiful gift of choice. Free will. God didn’t create them to be puppets who simply did what He wanted them to do. He equipped His human creations with the ability to think, feel, and make their own decisions. His longing is for every one of us to choose Him. To walk through life in relationship with Him and to make good choices that benefit the world around us.
What would life be like without free will? It honestly wouldn’t be much of a life. We’d be robots. Unfeeling creatures who don’t have a mind of our own. We wouldn’t be able to choose who to love, what to eat, what to study, where to work, how many kids to have, and where to live.
We’d lose the ability to choose how to celebrate birthdays, which holiday traditions mean the most to us, what books we’d read our kids each night, and what music we want to listen to in the car.
Free will is what makes life so delightful! Choices are the color wheel of life! It’s what brings joy, hope, love, and happiness to our existence.
Personally I am grateful for free will and for a God who doesn’t force Himself or His ways upon us. It’s similar to parenting where we lead and guide our kids but know that eventually they have to make their own choices.
We all know, however, there’s another side to free will and this is what most of us struggle with. If we can choose good and wonderful things, we can also choose bad and terrible things. In the same way that our good and wonderful choices positively affect us and those around us, our bad and terrible choices negatively affect us and those around us.
None of us live completely separated from others. We’re affected by the choices the people around us make. It’s the flip side of the free will we all love and enjoy.
So the choices people have made in Iraq, New York, Afghanistan, Boston, Kenya, Paris, Brussels and other places in the world have so sadly affected innocent lives. This is the outcome of free will used wrongly.
So where is God in all this pain? It’s a fair question to ask and one we have clear answers for.
He is understanding. God watched His Son, Jesus, be stoned, beaten, and hung on a cross suffering a horrible death because of free will misused. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God (they had to have the apple off the one tree God said not to eat!), relationship between God and man was broken. Adam and Eve had to leave the beautiful garden and consequences for our poor free will choices were introduced. Because we are like Adam and Eve—prone to use our free will for both good and bad—we are forever separated from God. However, Jesus died to bring reconciliation between us and God. So Jesus represented us as the wrongdoer to build a bridge between us and the Father we have wronged. When Jesus suffered his horrible death on the cross, it was God’s greatest hour of suffering. His heart was broken. He knows what it feels like to be affected by free will used wrongly. He understands.
He is present. Psalm 46:1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Just because we lose sight of God, we can be assured he never loses sight of us. He is the God who sees us (Genesis 16:13).
He is comforting. Psalm 34:18 tells us that “God draws near to the brokenhearted.” The most effective person to have by our side is someone who understands. God can comfort because He has personally experienced the ripple effect of bad and terrible choices.
He is working. We often can’t see God working but that doesn’t mean he isn’t. Ecclesiastes 3:5 declares, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”
He is good. Psalm 34:8 reminds us “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” And in Romans 8:28 we know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Just like a child can’t see good when a parent puts a boundary in place, sometimes we can’t see good in our circumstances either. Just because bad happens doesn’t change God’s heart and his goodness.
He is redeeming. God is all about taking bad and turning it into good. In Isaiah 61:3 we are reminded that God turns “beauty into ashes.” The same verse tells us He turns mourning into joy and replaces despair with praise. When my marriage went through a horrible crisis 5 years ago, I experienced the ripple effect of someone I love exercising their free will with a very bad choice. My life was changed forever. Initially the pain was horrific and I could barely breathe and function. Over time I found my footing and began to see how God was using the broken places in my life to grow and change me in a good way. Now both Mark and I look back and are grateful for the many ways God has redeemed our pain to help others. God often does His best work through the pain in our life.
This world is a broken place. There will be pain, there will be hurt, and because of free will—we will be both helped and hurt by the actions of others. However, this world is just a stopping point before eternity. There is a place God has absolutely designed to be pain free. A place where we’re protected from hurt. A place where joy is present at all times. It’s called heaven.
In the same way, however, that God won’t force himself on us here on earth, He also won’t force heaven on us either. We choose where we spend eternity.
I can’t believe in a God who allows innocent people to suffer and die either. Thankfully I don’t have to.
God is not the author of pain, nor does He cause it. This broken, imperfect world wasn’t His idea at all but He’s done the unthinkable to fix it…offering the sacrifice of His only Son so we can experience the beauty and perfection of heaven.
I’ve made the choice of heaven by accepting Jesus as my Savior and my Lord, and if you haven’t, I invite you to do that too. After all, isn’t heaven really the kind of place we’re wishing earth would be like? It does exist. Just not in this stop on our journey towards eternity.
Father God, I’m sorry I’ve wondered where you are in the midst of these challenging times we’re living in. I can see how your heart is as broken as mine is. I understand that this wasn’t what you wanted for us either. Thank you for creating us and for loving us enough to send your Son to be the bridge between our wrong and your Right. I accept Jesus as my Savior–my bridge builder. I also accept Him as my Lord–my True North–the Leader of my life. Thank you for loving me, for saving me, and for being my Solid Rock and Firm Foundation in a world filled with crashing waves. In Jesus Name…Amen.