So we've all heard the saying, no pain, no gain, but some of you might be wondering, what could I possibly gain from the pain of a cheating spouse or the pain of the death of a child? And what could I possibly gain from the pain of a sexual assault? While they are all valid questions and, when answered, make the phrase seem cruel, I want us to pause and ask ourselves—are we looking at this from the right angle?
The Optical Illusion of Pain?
An optical illusion deceives the eye by appearing to be other than it is. For example, I saw this optical illusion, from one angle, right side up it looks like you're looking at the edge of Earth's atmosphere from outer space with all the stars, but when you turn the same image upside down, it looks like the evening sky over a dark city filled with the lights from buildings. So many of us see optical illusions when it comes to pain. And rightly so; how many of us can think straight when trauma happens, or evil harms us in the worst way? Hence when someone is hurting, the worst thing you can say to that person is no pain, no gain. But there will come a time when you begin to look for answers to your question "Why God" and "Why me."
The birth of my first child was a horrible and painful experience for Anton and me. Something that should have been a joyous moment turned into our worst nightmare. I was severely damaged during labor and underwent surgery at midnight. I was in so much pain physically and emotionally that I couldn't even hold my baby boy or see him. I kept saying: Why God? Anton and I were both young in marriage, and he watched me cry in pain for over 5 hours; with tears in his eyes, I knew he felt helpless and kept encouraging me to hold on. If someone had told me "no pain, no gain" at that moment, I just might have lost it and gone off the deep end, truth be told. Those are certainly not words anyone in pain wants to hear. Yet today, I can look back at that time and confess, yes, if I weren’t in pain, I would not have gained a greater understanding of God, a greater dependency on Him, and hearing Him speak to me. When I kept saying, “Why God, Why me.” I kept hearing a voice say, “Why Not You?” In the midst of my pain, I kept saying, who is saying this, I knew I was not trying to encourage myself; I was way too deep in self-pity. It took an entire 2 or 3 hours before I realized that I gained a greater awareness of God’s presence in the midst of my pain. He was right there with me in my suffering. He never left me, nor did He forsake me (Deut 31:6,8 and Heb 13:5). He is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Ps 46.1).
If God Created Satan, then did He Create Evil?
If you’re in pain, the worst thing to do is to suffer in silence; instead, get help, seek godly counsel find that godly friend that will pray for you. Too often, we sink deep into despair and question God. “Why God, why couldn't you have stopped this or performed a miracle? And this becomes the mantra that causes us to stumble. You see, God is good. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. In God, there is no evil. He is perfect! While God may allow evil to happen, He does not produce the evil. Evil is a corruption of what is good. Norman Geisler, author of If God, Why Evil?, states, "evil is not a thing in itself but is a lack or corruption in a good thing"(p. 19). For example, we know Satan is evil, but was he created evil? (Eze 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:12-17) Absolutely not. He was created good, but because of his free will, and his freedom to choose, he chose to be bad. God created all things and saw that it was very good. (Gen 1:31) God cannot go against his nature. God is good! Hence God cannot do evil to you. God didn't cause the death of your loved one or cause you to be sexually assaulted. The Bible states, " When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;  but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:13-15). Hence God didn't tempt the assailant to murder your loved one or the pedophile to sexually assault you as a child. Or caused the sickness that took away your loved one. Yet through your pain, you see God as the fault because He is God and didn't stop it from happening.
Why Can't God Stop Bad Things from Happening?
But what if God stopped every bad thing from happening? To do this, God will have to remove our free will. God has given each of us the ability to choose. God's moral law is written in our hearts; we all know right from wrong, which is seen in our judicial system that judges bad, evil, and immoral behavior. Then you might say, God can remove the free will of just the bad ones, but are we all good? No,we are all sinners, and there is no one who does good, not even one. (Rom 3:13). Then you might say, surely he can take away the free will of all those who are and will be murderers and pedophiles. If He does, then how can He be just? That makes Him go against his nature because you want God only to correct some sins and not others. What about sins that indirectly harm us, like drug makers that create these painkillers which loved ones become addicted to because of a doctor that willingly knows and keeps prescribing them? He didn't directly murder the person, but isn't he responsible for their addiction and death? Or what about an act of self-defense? Even though they defended themselves, it still resulted in murder. Some of you might say well, He can leave our free will but do miracles instead. If God were to do miracles for each person that asked, that would create chaos and contradictions. For example, someone prays and asks God to make it rain, while another person in the same community prays and asks God to keep the sun shining for their wedding. What if the rain falling prevented someone from going out and getting in a car accident, or what if the sun being out caused a child to be outside and get kidnapped? We are not all-knowing, but we serve a God who is all-knowing and knows what is best at that moment in time for all of us. Although we may not why, God does, and we must trust Him.
Then, there are the hurtful lessons we learn that cause us to have repenting hearts or the mistakes we make that allow us to see the goodness of God. If He always does miracles, how would we truly appreciate Him and know who He is? He is your Comforter, Deliverer, Savior, and so much more. But miracles will only allow us to encounter our Savior, not even a Healer, because He would perform a miracle on you before getting sick. According to Norman Geisler, “The truth is that we learn more enduring lessons in life through pain than through pleasure.” (p.75) We always think we can tell God how to be God rather than trust Him. We wish He could stop evil now. God is all-knowing. We are not. He is infinite with infinite knowledge and is outside of time. We are finite and constrained by time. The truth is, bad things will come our way because we live in a fallen world that is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The good news is God has done something about it. He gave his only son so you and I can be reconciled to Him so we can inherit eternal life and live in paradise where there is no more pain and evil (Rev 21: 4). But God will never puppet us to choose Him. Our brothers and sisters in prison turn to God because they chose to, not because he takes away our free will when we do wrong. We think evil persistence means there is no God or God isn't doing anything about it. But God has already defeated evil because of Jesus. You need to decide if your pain will be a stumbling block to God or become a stepping stone to Him. Will the trauma and hurt you face take you away from God or allow you to depend on and draw closer to Him? At the end of it all, you are the one to choose. Don't allow the optical illusion of pain to make you see or think God is the villain or mastermind behind it all. God is your gain when you're in pain.
Written by: Cheryl Carty-Strachan
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Norman L. Geisler, If God Why Evil, Grand Rapids MI, 2018
Timothy Keller, Walking With God through Pain and Suffering