One question we often ask when facing suffering is, “Why doesn’t God intervene?” or “Why doesn’t he just take away my suffering?” This question can come at many times in many ways. How can we have a more accurate understanding of when God intervenes and when he doesn’t so we don’t have inaccurate expectations of God?
I thought it would be helpful first to look at ourselves. Is our suffering the result of our own sin or wrongdoing?
Perhaps we had parents that would not allow us to face the consequences for our choices, but always “protected” us. This is called the “helicopter” style of parenting. If we experienced this kind of parenting we may assume God is the same way and become very angry with God when we have to continually face the consequences for our choices.
For example, let’s say as Christians that we face a particular recurring temptation to sin. If we succumb to the temptation we may ask God, “Why didn’t you stop me?” or “Why didn’t you pull me out of that situation?” However, God never told us he would stop us from sinning. We are free agents and he allows us to fail, fall on our face, and make mistakes. He let’s us face consequences to help us learn and grow.
We fail to accept responsibility because we assume it’s God’s role to protect us from our choices. But God never said he would protect us from our bad choices or keep us from making them. He often lets us learn by falling on our face. He lets us grow up.
The appropriate response if we have sinned is not to hold it against God for not protecting us against our choices, but to ask for forgiveness and make every effort towards repentance. The God of the Bible will not interfere with our free will, but he is a very forgiving God when we fall short, provided that we continue to repent and seek after him and his will. God will then instruct us how to live faithfully. Let’s look at a couple scriptures about this:
“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways… For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive me iniquity, though it is great. Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him…” (Psalm 25:8,11,12)
“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains…” (Psalm 107:10-14)
As you can see from these scriptures, God does not protect us from making poor choices that will harm us, from sinning, and never promises to. But he does promise to instruct us in the right way and deliver us from our sins.
However, you may be facing suffering for something that has nothing to do with your sin. Perhaps you are facing relationship issues, or were born with a disease or mental illness. Why doesn’t God intervene and take our suffering away in these situations? In the future, I’ll speak to this question.
In the meantime, here are some resources on understanding God’s intervention of suffering:
When God is Silent: The Problem of Human Suffering by Douglas Jacoby