Q&R: A Six-Year-Old Wrestles with the Problem of Pain – Brad Jersak
My 6-year-old fell down the stairs and hit his head, and got a concussion. Before bed tonight, he asked me, “If God is in control, and is powerful, and loves me, then why did he watch me fall and not help me?”
Your child certainly is a deep thinker! And deep thinkers have been asking that question for a very long time. At least since the philosopher Epicurus (about 300 years before Jesus). And those who try to answer the question always seem to stumble into rationalizations that end up calling good evil and evil good. So I’ve been praying and pondering about this for days… how to respond to a sincere child who sees the problem so clearly. I’ll give it a go and speak directly. You can decide whether to pass this along. There’s a lot to digest in what follows, so maybe each question could be its own discussion.
“If God is in control, and is powerful, and loves me, then why did he watch me fall and not help me?”
What an important question! And it’s really hard to answer! But anyone who believes in God must sometimes ask hard questions, especially when life is hard and people suffer. Does God just sit back and watch? Why didn’t God do something? Doesn’t God care? Or is God not powerful after all?
Let’s start with your big question: WHY?
Sometimes I have been afraid to ask that question. Sometimes, I was even told that I shouldn’t ask it. Maybe we’re afraid that there is no answer. Or that God will be angry if we ask hard questions. Or that maybe God doesn’t love us after all.
I disagree! I think we need to ask the hard questions and that God wants us to ask them. God wants us to tell him when we’re upset, disappointed, or confused. In fact, God’s best friends in the Bible always did this. I think they trusted God enough to know that their friendship could handle it. I’m thinking of Abraham, Moses, and David. For example, many of the Psalms of David ask those questions: Why!? (Psalm 6) How long!? (Psalm 13) Where are you!? (Psalm 22). Even Jesus prayed some hard questions to his Father in heaven when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Is there another way?) and on the Cross (Why have you forsaken me?).
All of those best friends of God asked hard questions. So the first thing I want you to know is that it’s not only okay. It’s a good thing to do! But I want you to notice three things about that:
a. They didn’t just ask those questions to someone else, like their mom. They asked God. They prayed the questions to God, even if they didn’t get an answer right away. They kept asking. They kept praying. They kept telling God they were upset instead of turning away.
b. As I said, they didn’t always get an answer right away. Some didn’t even get their answers in this life. Some even waited until they went to be with Jesus. But they kept asking, they kept waiting, and they kept praying. They decided that even though they didn’t understand, God was still their friend, and they would still be God’s friend.
c. I also noticed how they all started out believing God is good. Then, after asking and praying and complaining to God, they still believed God is good, no matter what. They said, “I don’t understand, but I trust that you are good.”
A Second Question: Is God in control? Does God overpower people?
We believe God created everything and everyone. So yes, God is very powerful. But more than that, we believe that God is love. God created everything and everyone out of love and for love. This is very important because God’s love doesn’t control us or overpower us.
Imagine if God did control us. What if God never let us choose? What if God never let us choose to disobey? I make lots of choices every day and some of them aren’t good for me. Sometimes my bad choices are by accident and sometimes on purpose. But if God controlled me, how would he do that? Would he handcuff me to my bed every morning? Or lock me in my room? Or control my mind and my mouth and my hands so I could only think or say or do what God wants? It might make the world safer, but a God who overpowers me would not be love.
And what if God never let us slip? What if God never let us fall down? How would that work? Would he stop us from walking or running? Or if we started to slip, would he float us around? It’s kind of funny to think about, but overpowering gravity would be strange. It might be easier if God said, “Be careful. Don’t rush. You might slip and fall.”
Even then, we do have accidents sometimes. I’ve had some concussions, too. And some broken bones. And some stitches. And some burns. As I grow up, I’m learning how to be a bit more careful, which seems better to me than magically floating away. It’s just how God made the world out of love and for love, and it was the best way to make it. When accidents happen, I’m glad that we have people who love us and take care of us. The people who take care of me when I hurt myself seem to be a good way to see God’s love. People like our parents and grandparents, our nurses and doctors are how God loves us in a world where pain happens. Love is how God’s power shows up.
Third Question: Did God just watch?
Final question for now. When you fell and got your concussion, did God just watch? Where was God when that happened? Did God just say, “Oh well, another child fell down the stairs.” Doesn’t God care? I have a few thoughts about that…
a. God-in-Jesus knows and feels what it’s like to have a concussion. God didn’t stand back and watch the universe fall apart or let his children suffer along. God’s love led God to become human (remember Jesus?), to grow up as a little boy who felt the pain of tripping and falling, scraping his knees and bumping his head. In Jesus life, God even had concussions and knows exactly what it’s like. And it really hurt, too. God didn’t magic the pain away. If we have felt it, God felt it in Jesus.
b. God-in-you knows and feels how you feel. If we think God just watches our hurts, it makes it sound like God is separate from us, on the other side of the room, and isn’t able to help or doesn’t want to help. But God is MUCH closer than that. God is IN you and even though he doesn’t control where your feet go or what your head bangs, God cares. God doesn’t leave when you are in pain. God shares the pain with you because that’s what love does.
c. One day, God will wipe away every tear and end all suffering. When? I don’t know. How? I don’t know. Why not now? I don’t know. But when I see God’s love now in the people who love us and care for us and nurse us back to health, I trust that God will do that for the whole universe and everyone in it. Until then, in my prayers, I pray what Jesus said, “Father, let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” That means, let God’s love fill this world through all of God’s children, so that even now, your love would begin to heal our world.
These aren’t really answers
When we are in pain, what I’ve said doesn’t usually feel like good answers. They aren’t really answers at all. Instead, they are invitations:
a. I invite you to question God and complain to God. Tell God exactly how you feel.
b. I invite you to show people how God loves them. He won’t control our hands or mouth or feet, but we can use them for God’s love.
c. I invite you to remember that God was in Jesus and God is in you, and find comfort from how close God is to you all the time, even when you hurt.