Monthly Archives: October 2014

Why does God allow suffering?

There’s a catchphrase circulating in Christian circles at the moment, which I’ve mentioned recently in the context of our family (we use it too). It’s this:

“God is Good – All the time

All the time, God is Good”

Straight away, I can hear the age-old question, ‘If God is good and all-powerful, why does He allow suffering?’ – so how can you say that God is good all the time?

Well, let me tell you first off that some of the finest minds humanity has produced have pondered that very question, and I do not doubt that we shall never satisfactorily answer the question this side of eternity.

But instead, let me give you a personal testimony which supports the original ‘catchphrase’. I am sharing this not for sympathy, but in order to demonstrate just how good God has been to me and my family. We personally can say that, in spite of the suffering, ‘God is Good’ to us. All the time.

For the last eight and a half months, we have had, as a family, some of the most horrendous circumstances that life can throw at us. Fiona’s horrific diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer has naturally stood all of our lives on their heads, and we’ve had lots of scary moments since the diagnosis.

In the months since then, we have had such a profound sense of the closeness of God. He’s so real to us. We have been prayed over, anointed with oil; we have friends all over the world praying for us right now. We have had great holidays, an amazing road-trip where God used us even in our weakness.

Little of this would have happened had we not had the cancer diagnosis. Would I swap the last few months for ones without the horror, pain and anguish? I honestly have to say that I really don’t know. The presence of God has been so real to us, and His power at work in our lives – not yet the full healing we so desperately want – the love, generosity and compassion of family and friends, the bringing back together of our family despite differences. The salvation of family members and their redemption from the pits of despair and powerlessness. He’s seen us through good times, great scenery, great food, deep encouragement, deep despair, new ideas. In the midst of fear and terror we have experienced huge, overpowering joy; peace that really is beyond human understanding. I have experienced all these things in the last few months, and I would have likely missed it had it not been for the suffering. You see, God really does draw near to those who need Him. You just need to have the eyes and ears of faith to feel Him there right beside you.

The well-known passage in Psalm 23 says ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet still You are with me, and Your rod and staff they comfort me still’. I have found this to be true. The Bible says that God is the Healer of the broken-hearted, He binds up their wounds. Romans 8:28 says this: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. God draws near to the oppressed. Ps 46:1 says ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of need’. Another way of putting this is that He’s ‘a help always near in times of great trouble’. Such has been our experience.

Let me tell you also that this is not dependent on our behaviour. God is good to us despite our behaviour, our sins, whatever you want to call it. He’s above all that. He knows our weaknesses, and He loves us just the same.

Let me put that more clearly: God’s love does not depend on our behaviour.

It depends on Him. Just because I might pick my nose in public, He’s not going to shun me, or send me ‘bad luck’, or anything so silly. He’s a person, not an auto-response system. He’s not governed by superstition. It doesn’t matter how many ladders you walk under; conversely it doesn’t matter how many black cats cross your path. He’s completely reliable, completely trustworthy.

Our Vicar, Mark, said to me a couple of weeks ago, ‘You guys are going through the most horrendous circumstances, but you’re living it right’. We are living in perpetual thanksgiving for every day. We thank God for the good days, the scenery, the road trips, the flying, the adventures. Thankfulness is a powerful weapon against the despair that can result if you let it get a hold.

This is not denying what is happening. It’s declaring the truth of God in the midst of the suffering. To us, God has been, and is, good. All the time. We can say that despite our circumstances. In fact it’s more obvious *because of* the circumstances. Granted, I still haven’t reached the answer to that original question of God ‘allowing’ suffering. But what I am saying is that, if you handle it right, in God’s strength, even the worst suffering, the most awful circumstances, can result in something beautiful if you give it to God. I don’t know how that works, but it does. We personally are suffering, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But even then, in the midst of that suffering, we can still affirm that God is Good. All the time.

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God is Good – All the Time!

“God is Good – All the Time. All the Time – God is Good!”

This is a well-used saying in our family, and it means a lot to us.

This week, Fiona and I spent Tuesday evening, Wednesday and Thursday at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care Centre in Bristol. We were at a residential  course on ‘Living Well with the Effects of Cancer’ and very good it was too. Sure, it was a bit New Agey, but we did get lots out of it that will be useful for us. The centre is set in 4 acres of beautiful, peaceful grounds and there is also this path laid with engraved paving slabs with scriptures, sayings, well-wishes, memorials and what have you. All very lovely. Here’s Fiona on one of the swing-seats in the grounds:

Fiona at PBCC

Apart from the learning experience, our prayer was also that God would use us to bless the other classmates on the course, and somehow for us to be Jesus to them in their need.

Well, God did use us to bless them in so many ways, and we were blessed by them too. Such lovely brave people and we were privileged to share some of God with them. I love how God speaks to people at a level they can cope with, and using us to do that in the ways that suit us as personalities. So if you’re impulsive, God may well use you in impulsive ways. If you’re not, He may want you to think about what you say and even if you are going to say anything!

Anyway I just wanted to share a particularly special moment on the Thursday afternoon. We’d just been taught how to do a ‘mindful walk’, that is, a slow walk around the grounds where you look, hear, feel, smell, really take in the things that are going on around you. Actually it really worked for me…. Towards the end of the walk I began to pray a little about the way things are going. Ok it’s going slightly off-task but there were only a couple of minutes left… Soon, the course tutor came out and sounded her ‘gong’ to indicate the end of the exercise. I’d just spotted Fiona at the end of her walk, and began to stroll over to her so we could walk back in to the classroom together. I’d stopped, without thinking about it, on the laid path, and just happened to look down at my feet.

Right there next to my toes was this paving slab:

god is good all the time

God is good
All the Time

Wow.

Of course I beckoned Fiona over to look, and she loved it, but soon after that I was unsurprisingly hit by Holy Spirit giggles and could not go back into the classroom. Explaining that to the course Tutor and then relating the story to my classmates was a real privilege. God touched our lives with that paving slab in that moment. And as the Tutor said, what a confirmation!

Praise God!

Even now I have Holy Spirit giggling fits when I remember this. How encouraging is that?

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