In Red Like Blood, Joe shares the story of his reaction to his younger brother being killed in a motorcycle accident. The question ‘Why?’ was nearly overwhelming. Here is an excerpt from Joe’s book Smooth Stones where he again uses that story to give answers for our heads and our hearts:
My first answer for the head is simply this. If there is a God big enough for you to be mad at for allowing whatever evil or pain and suffering has happened, then that God is big enough to have reasons you and I cannot begin to understand.
Let’s go back to when my little brother was killed and I demanded an answer to the ‘why’ question. What if God had come down and said to me,
Joe, you wanted to know the answer, so I decided to jot it down. Here you go. But I need to warn you, it’s a little complicated. I use a lot of advanced math. There are several dimensions that you don’t know exist, and there are people that I will mention who haven’t even been born yet. But you demanded I answer the ‘why’ question, so here you go.
What would I do? I would take it, look it over, and eventually throw my hands up and say, “My brother is still gone, I still have pain, and God answering the ‘why’ question does not do anything for me.” Maybe that’s why God never answered it for Job. Or me. Or you.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God put it like this:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
These words are intended to remove our arrogance and give us big, loving arms where we can confidently rest our minds. . .
Let’s move from the head to the heart. If you are in pain and you have gone through suffering, what does help? When my little brother died, I remember asking God the question, ‘Why?’ over and over again. If you have gone through any kind of pain, you cannot get away from the ‘why’ question. You become obsessed with it. But asking that question rarely helps you feel better.
What did help when my little brother died was when somebody who had gone through suffering would come and sit with me. I was involved with the church, so lots of people came, but I did not trust anyone who hadn’t gone through real pain. I had a particular affinity toward people who had also lost brothers. I still do.
The people that meant the most were the ones that just sat and wept with me. If you’ve gone through pain, you understand what I mean. They would weep with me and say, “I will sit by your side, and I will walk through this with you.” That is the only thing that helped.
The God Who is With Us in Our Pain
Did you know that Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a God who suffers? No other religion even remotely suggests that the God of the universe has ever put himself into the position of suffering. But in Christianity, evil and suffering is such a huge problem for us that it was a problem for God, too. God dealt with the problem by personally entering into evil and suffering. That is why the Son of God came into the world.
Eighteen months after my little brother died, when I was still mad at God, a Bible verse broke through to me. It is the shortest verse in the Bible, which says, “Jesus wept.” All of a sudden, the deep meaning of those two words and their application to my life became clear. The God of the universe sits beside me and feels my pain. And he weeps.
God will rarely, if ever, answer the ‘why’ question for you. Instead, he draws you close and whispers,
I will weep with you, and not only will I weep with you, I know what it feels like to experience unimaginable evil and excruciating pain of every kind.
When God sent his Son into the world, Jesus didn’t wave a magic wand to make evil and suffering go away. Instead, he entered into the pain and suffering and evil of our world and then, out of unimaginable love, he went to the cross to deal with the evil in you and me.
The God Who Redeems our Suffering
Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” One translation of this verse uses “pioneer” instead of “founder.” I like to think of Jesus as the pioneer who blazed the trail from evil to joy. He offers to enter into our pain and walk beside us on the trail he blazed. He wipes our tears, points the way forward, and whispers,
Somewhere along this trail you will find your suffering has been redeemed, and you will experience the presence of the love of God that will make a lifetime of suffering seem like a single night spent in a bad hotel.
. . . Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a God who will suffer for you and then enter into the midst of your pain and sit beside you. And weep.
He is the only God who has blazed the trail from the cross to joy so that your tears here on earth will become tears of joy in heaven someday. One day I will sit with my little brother, John, and we will laugh until the tears roll down our faces. But we will not be laughing at how wonderful heaven is. We will be laughing because our tears here have finally been redeemed.
The God of Christianity is unique. And no mistake about it—Christianity properly understood and applied is the only religion that offers deep, satisfying answers to the problem of evil and suffering for both the head and the heart.