Not too long ago I took some time off from my church and traveled to another state. I had a rare opportunity to go to church and be a worshipper in the pews one Sunday morning. Having led worship more times than I wish to count, it’s always been a challenge for me to sit in the pews because the whole time I’m analyzing the worship service and the pastor’s message and comparing it to what I would do.
On this particular Sunday the pastor gave a sermon where he talked about how God is always good to us, and we can always put our faith in God. At one point the pastor said, “God never fails us.” It took all my strength to not stand up and shout, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can believe that.”
Maybe I’m just in a dour mood, but lately I’ve been questioning the goodness of God. To put it bluntly the world is a mess, and I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon. Maybe we can blame global poverty, terrorism, and climate change on humanity, but at what point is God going to get the message that we’re not capable stewards of this planet? We need God to intervene to make things better, but yet where is God? Why does it seem like every year instead of making progress we slip further into chaos? God could at least point us in the right direction!
Then I look at the personal side of suffering. Sometimes it seems the road to success in life is by being greedy, crooked, and thinking only about yourself, whereas there are far too many good people for whom it seems life never works out in their favor. I think of all the people who are terminally ill and no matter how hard they pray they still suffer and die. There are some people who experience a miraculous recovery and go on to live several full and fruitful years, but why does it seem like some people get a miracle and others do not?
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Does God just roll a set of dice and decide who gets blessed and who doesn’t? Because sometimes from my perspective it looks like that’s how God does things. I don’t doubt the existence of God, but what I do question is God’s methods. Does our all-powerful God choose to let us suffer? Or is God not able to help us, and thus God is not all-powerful?
I’m not alone in questioning all of this. Surprisingly the Bible is full of places where people question God’s goodness. I take great comfort in the words of the prophet Habakkuk who wrote, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2, NRSV.) Or the words spoken by Jesus himself as he suffered on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34b, NRSV.)
There are some who think to be a believer means you can’t have any questions, but yet I say this is far from the truth. If the prophets and Jesus could go as far as to openly question God’s fairness and have their words added to the Bible then what reason do we have to hide our doubts? There are some who might agree with the pastor who said, “God never fails us,” but from what I can see there are times where it looks like God has failed us. Instead of hiding from these questions I’m going to speak them out loud.