Why does God allow human heartache and misery? But especially, why does God let tragedy strike little children?
A MOTHER wrote a letter to a syndicated newspaper columnist. In it she said: "I can tell you firsthand that of all human suffering, none can equal the pain of a mother who must put her young child into a grave." Another mother recently had to face that pain. Her 11-year-old son Kevin died after suffering most of his life from cystic fibrosis. She described Kevin 's moving last words. She held Kevin through the final night. In the morning he knelt in his hospital bed and with his remaining breath said: " Not yet. Not yet. I'm not ready yet." "I don't know whether he was talking to God or not," she said. I was also deeply saddened by another real life story, this one concerning a little 3-year-old girl. My wife and I took an afternoon to visit and relax together at a nearby park, nestled some 3,000 feet high in a beautiful mountain setting. Patches of snow were still on the ground. Overhead the sun shone brightly against a deep blue sky. A slight breeze rustled through surrounding pine trees — a gorgeous, serene, pristine atmosphere. But even in this — peaceful environment, miles from the nearest city, we were reminded of this world's harsh realities. I saw what looked like a wanted poster, stapled to a bulletin board, attached to the side of a restroom facility. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a missing child report. As I read the information below the little girl's picture, my stomach began churning and feeling light. Tears welled up in my eyes. The report read: "Laura Ann Bradbury — white female, 3 years old, 3 feet tall, 25 to 30 pounds, sandy blonde hair, dark brown eyes. Last seen wearing a kelly-green hooded sweat shirt; white, pink and purple knit short — sleeved blouse with horizontal stripes, lavender long pants and rainbow striped flip flop sandals. Last seen — 4 p.m. Thursday, October 18, 1984." I was immediately reminded of my own girls, thankfully now much older, and my heart reached out for little Laura Ann and Laura Ann's parents. That's many months ago, I thought to myself. I wonder if she's all right? I wonder if she's still alive? Early next day I called the authorities, hoping for news. "We're no closer to finding little Laura now than we were the day she was missing," came the sad reply. "There are no suspects and no leads."
Where Is God?
Such stories are emotionally draining. Hardly anything affects one as much as witnessing or hearing about such tragedies involving small children like 11-year-old Kevin and little 3-year-old Laura Ann. Why, many ask, does God let these things happen to little children? Why does God allow little children to suffer and die? Why does God let thousands of healthy children die each year because of accidents? Overwhelmed and emotionally distraught, perhaps even on the verge of anger and bitterness because of a heartrending incident involving a little child, some people lash out in harshness: "I can't believe in a God who would let that happen!" Or, "I can't worship a God who allows awful diseases and accidents!" How are we to explain an eternal, Ever-living, all-wise, all-knowing God who allows painful suffering and death to happen to innocent little children, not only now but throughout recorded human history? Tragedies involving little children, such as the widely published plight of the starving Ethiopian and other African children — their little bodies emaciated, diseased and dying, their bellies bloated — are never easy to take. But before we blame God for the multitude of terrible, heartrending tragedies afflicting little children and people worldwide, we need to stop and understand. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if there may be reasons why God allows sad events and suffering to occur?
Whose Fault? Whose Responsibility?
Is God totally to blame? Shall we humans assume no responsibilities? And what about a devil? Philosophers and theologians, scientists and agnostics have all puzzled over these questions. Consider the thousands of little children maimed and killed by accidents. There's a cause for every effect. Faulty equipment, carelessness, human miscalculations, lack of training, drunkenness. How many fires occur because children play with matches? Or because people smoke and fall asleep on a sofa or in bed? How many small children are severely injured and permanently scarred or maimed through scalding accidents; or die from drinking caustic, deadly solutions negligently left within their little reach? Potentially dangerous toys, loaded guns, unguarded swimming pools, children darting into the path of oncoming automobiles and you can name others — claim children's lives daily. Parents, often, are either careless or fail to teach children proper precautions. Do humans bear no fault? God, of course, bears responsibility if he is God! And what about a deceiving devil? How do we account for a deceived and deluded world of suffering?
Babies: Alcoholics and Drug Addicts
Consider another tragic example. Worldwide, babies are born already addicted to alcohol or hard drugs because their mothers were addicts during pregnancy. Imagine these babies' first taste of life. They enter the world suffering painful alcohol or addiction withdrawal symptoms. Some die in the process. Can we begin to understand the human part in the suffering and death children endure? There is a human responsibility involved even before a baby is born. After birth parents have an even greater duty to teach, protect and watch over their children. Parents must especially know what their little toddlers are doing and where they are. Perhaps more of this kind of awareness would have prevented the disappearance of little Laura Ann. But the more we open our minds, and the deeper we search for understanding about why little children suffer, disappear or die, and why people have suffered terrible evils throughout history, the more we must acknowledge the human responsibility involved, even for such diseases from which 11-year-old Kevin suffered and died. There is only one source available to give us this needed understanding of the causes of so much human suffering and misery. That source — which holds life — giving and life — preserving knowledge — is the Bible.
A Series of Wrong Choices
Since the beginning of human experience God reveals he has given humans freedom of choice freedom to act rightly, act wrongly or not act at all. The answers to our problems begin to unfold once we read the episode that took place in the garden of Eden. It is there that we must go to find the fundamental answers to the basic dilemmas of humanity and humanity's sufferings that have so long puzzled philosophers. Scripture reveals that God created the first humans in his very own image. That is, he imparted mind power to our first parents the ability to think, plan, reason and create — and, most important, the ability to exercise decision making powers. The first two humans were given a choice. Since God gave them a choice, God is in charge. He is therefore responsible for whatever happens. But if the first humans chose freely to go the wrong way, the fault is theirs and the penalties theirs and their children's! Instead of choosing to obey God's government over their lives and do things God's way, they chose to do things their way. God advised them to take of the "tree of life," which symbolized outgoing concern for others, God's way of doing things, obedience to his authority, and acceptance of his , revealed knowledge, leading eventually to eternal life in health and happiness. He warned them against choosing the opposite way, portrayed by the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" — representing self-centeredness, selfishness, reasoning apart from God, acquiring knowledge by trial and error, even living life in outright rejection of God's revealed way of outgoing concern for others.. A wrong choice, God warned man, would lead to coming under the sway and government of Satan and unhappiness and death for the whole human family. "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). They chose wrong! The woman was deceived by Satan. The man willingly — not willfully — chose to go the wrong way. They rejected God's way and chose Satan's way instead. They rejected God having any authority in their lives! They built their own society and civilization cut off from God's revelation, from his revealed spiritual and physical knowledge. That's how this world became Satan's world. That's why mankind has suffered throughout history. That's why all the misery we see today. Mankind as a whole has chosen to reject God's revealed way of life — including his promises of protection from evil, and healing of our sicknesses and diseases. God did not force our first parents to choose correctly. He hasn't forced mankind since. And he doesn't force us today. Except for a select few, whom God has called out and to whom he has revealed his truth, humanity and that includes the vast majority that profess Christianity — has rejected revealed right knowledge on how to live — that right knowledge disseminated by God's law and spelled out specifically in God's Ten Commandments. The first four show us how to love God and the last six teach us how to love each other. Instead, humans have chosen to live contrary to God: cheating, lying, stealing, killing, coveting, committing fornication and adultery and living selfishly and competitively to the hurt of others. This pattern of living has affected every facet of life: business, education — or shall we call it miseducation? — medical science, politics and most certainly religion. Greed, for the most part, and competition have been the motivating factors of human conduct. We see the ugly result today with such things as industrial pollution of the earth's air, water and soil and the chemical polluting of foodstuffs, a major cause of many of today's degenerative diseases. Is it any wonder, then, why we have unhappiness, suffering and so many terrible heartrending personal and world ills?
God Can Intervene
It is not that God can't intervene in the world's affairs. And it is not that God cannot save children, or adults, from disease, death or injury in accidents. He can! God can intervene and God does intervene to help and protect those choosing to truly live life his way. God loves children! Jesus, the very personification of God, lived life on this earth exactly as God the Father would have, had the Father become human. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), Jesus said. Jesus did what he saw his Father do. Jesus openly showed his love for children. God the Father loves children, too! "Suffer [allow or let] little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me," said Jesus (Matt. 19:14). He opened his arms to little children, put his hands on them and prayed for them (verse 13). Jesus, who is at the right hand of God the Father this very minute (Acts 7:56), receives little children today through his ministers who do the same things Jesus did. Parents truly choosing to live life God's way, according to his commandments and instructions, can bring their children to God through his ministers today and, in prayer, ask him to protect them and help them. And he will! He does! But the world, as a whole, is cut off from God, and rejects God's revealed instructions in the Bible on how to live. God has given mankind 6,000 years in which humans under the sway of the devil can go their own way and write their experiences in human history. God has kept hands off this world (except in certain circumstances and locations to fulfill his plan) and has stayed out of the lives of those who reject him or are ignorant of his teachings. Because of it, the world in general is having to learn the lesson — the very painful lesson — of what happens when humans are cut off from God's protection, guidance, right way of living and contact. Children have suffered, some dying early deaths. And the world in general is full of unhappiness and crime. Diseases often rampage unchecked. Nuclear arsenals are poised. And you think humans and Satan have no responsibility for what society is doing?
Even the Righteous Suffer
Yes, our world is on a course of life contrary to God's wholesome way of living. Because of it all humanity is suffering, sometimes even those who decide to choose correctly and live God's way. We have to learn that all of us affect each other. Others' mistakes and actions can and often do hurt. Others' selfishness and inconsideration, sometimes outright disrespect, persecution and hatred, cause pain. And, of course, often they are not another's actions, but our own! The ancient poet — musician Asaph records in Psalm 73 how saddened and bewildered he became after noting those living contrary to God seemed to prosper and. get ahead. They scoffed at the idea that God even took note of their self-centered, wrong conduct. Their money, they thought, could buy them anything. Said Asaph: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps. 73:2-3). It was difficult for him. "When I thought to know this [understand it]," he said, "it was too painful for me" (verse 16). But when Asaph considered the end of it all, he knew better than to be envious of wrongdoers: "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (verse 17). Once Asaph got his mind back on God's revealed truth, he recalled that we humans eventually are responsible to God for what we do in this life — and we will be eternally rewarded accordingly. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to... the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:7-8). God has allowed even those who serve him to suffer the • world's hatred and persecution since the very first murder of Abel by his brother Cain. "... and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afHicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:35-38). Jesus Christ himself suffered. But before he did he overcame Satan and qualified to replace Satan. But Jesus will not remove Satan until humans have experienced their near 6,000 years of going their own way under Satan's sway. No wonder, then, that Satan deceived the leaders of Jesus' day, especially the self-righteous religious leaders, to plot more than once to kill Jesus. Jesus was accused and maligned, slapped in the face, beaten unmercifully, cruelly crucified and speared to death. And so God makes it plain even to those who choose right, not to think it strange when difficult trials strike, causing suffering: "Beloved, • think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (I Pet. 4:12-13). But he adds this warning to make sure that any suffering isn't from breaking his law: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer,. or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian ... let him glorify God on this behalf' (verses 15-16). Why does God let the righteous suffer? Because it gives absolute proof where their true loyalty is. It allows those so tested to build godly character that will last for all eternity — character that continues on into eternal life when Christ returns to restore the government of God on earth and to reward individuals who serve him. "And, behold," says Jesus, "I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.... Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life... " (Rev. 22:12, 14). And, as Paul clearly explains, any suffering in this life by those choosing to obey God cannot compare with the tremendous reward to come later: "For I [consider] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).
God Is Fair and Just
Where is God when little children suffer and die? God assumes the responsibility. He has been restraining himself these near 6,000 years, allowing this world to complete its lesson. But he is soon to intervene in human affairs by sending Jesus the Messiah the second time to put an end to suffering and ignorance by deposing Satan and restoring the government of God. The fairness of God's way is in the fact that all who have ever lived or ever will live, will yet have an opportunity to choose right and have "right to the tree of life." Kevin's parents can take heart. All of you who have lost a loved one can take heart. Eleven-year-old Kevin will live again by a resurrection to physical life in a strong healthy body! All who have ever lived and died in ignorance of God's way of life, or who ever will live, will be given their opportunity under the reign of the government of God, and by a resurrection, to live a healthy, right way of life. Wrongs will be corrected. Sorrow, as in the case of little Laura Ann, will be turned to joy. God is righteous! God is just! He is merciful! These thousands of millions of people, including 11-year-old Kevin and other children who did not fully understand God and did not have the chance to choose, God's way of life, will have their opportunity in a resurrection to physical life described by John in Revelation 20:12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened [books of the Bible revealing the right way to live]: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." How fair! They will live again! They will be taught Bible truth on how to live, and then be given a chance to live God's way. And after that God the Father himself will live with all those choosing his way of life. Then there will be no more heartache and human miseries: "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away'" (Rev. 21:3-4, Revised Authorized Version). What comforting words for all of us!