Where Is God When It Hurts?
1 John 4:7-12
Dr. Jim Denison
So you think you had a bad day recently. This true account was taken from a recent Florida newspaper.
A man was working on his motorcycle on his patio when it slipped into gear and dragged him through the glass patio door and into the dining room. He lay bleeding on the floor as his wife called the paramedics, who transported him to the hospital for stitches. Then she went into the living room, pushed the motorcycle back outside, and used some paper towels to blot up the gasoline which had spilled onto the floor. She threw the towels into the toilet and went to the hospital to check on her husband.
His stitches done, he was released to go home. As he looked at his shattered patio door and damaged motorcycle, he became despondent, went into the bathroom, sat down and smoked a cigarette. He then threw it into the toilet where the gasoline-soaked towels were. It exploded, blowing his trousers away and burning his backside. His wife again ran to the telephone to call for an ambulance.
The same paramedics came to the house again. As they were carrying him on their stretcher down the stairs to the ambulance, one of them asked his wife how he had burned himself. She told him, and the paramedics started laughing so hard one of them tipped the stretcher and dumped the man out. He fell down the remaining steps and broke his arm.
Now, how was your week?
We begin today a series on problems with God, starting with the hardest question of all: where is God when it hurts? Christians believe three facts: God is all powerful, God is all loving, and evil exists. If you’re hurting today or care about someone who is, you know the third statement is true. But what of the others? Where is God when life hurts?
God is love
One answer to this problem is to deny the first statement, the assertion that God is all-powerful. If God could not prevent this problem, or heal this disease, or change these circumstances, then we should not blame him for them. Across the years many have unfortunately chosen this approach.
Here’s an example. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, out of the suffering and death of his own child. In his book, the rabbi states flatly that God cannot change the laws of nature for our benefit, and will not answer our prayers for the impossible or the unnatural. The rabbi has chosen a limited God as his approach to suffering in the world. Many would agree.
But most of us would not. I am assuming today that most of us know that God, if he is indeed God, is all-powerful. The God who created the universe out of nothing clearly has the power to intervene in that universe. If I can create a watch, I can change its time. If I can create a car, I can drive it.
We more commonly question God’s love, don’t we? If God really loved us, he wouldn’t allow this problem or this pain, we say.
Now our text is clear: “God is love.” The text does not say, “God loves,” for we love and we are not God. It does not say “love is God,” for God is more than a loving feeling or action. The Bible says that God is love.
Love is his nature, his very being. You and I sometimes do loving things—God is love. God loves in action because he is love in essence. Love is who God is, the Bible says.
Do you believe that it’s really true?
Many did not believe these words when John wrote them. The Greeks of his century pictured their gods living on Mt. Olympus, removed from our cares and problems, throwing thunderbolts at us on a whim.
The Roman Stoics of his day saw the gods as fates. They said that we are dogs tied to carts. We can run with the cart or be dragged with the cart, but we’re going with the cart. Apathy—literally “no feeling”—is the best way to deal with gods who do not feel.
Some today struggle to picture God as love. They know that Jesus loves us, but are not so sure that God the Father does. I still remember the preacher’s story about the dying woman, with her husband on one side and their estranged son on the other. In her last act, she took the hand of the father and the hand of the child, brought them together, and died. And so the preacher said that Jesus on the cross took the hand of the wrathful Father and sinful humanity and brought them together in his death. But the Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
Perhaps you struggle with this assertion that God is love. If God really loved you, he wouldn’t let you hurt like this, would he? He wouldn’t allow a plane to crash, killing ten people associated with a college basketball team; he wouldn’t permit an earthquake to kill multiplied thousands; he wouldn’t countenance cancer or heart disease, or rape or drug abuse, or poverty or pain. Or so it seems.
How do we know that God really loves us in the face of hard times? This must have been a question John anticipated in writing this letter as well, for he answers it immediately: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (vs. 9-10).
He sent his Son as our sacrifice (v. 10). He died in our place, for our sins, to prove his love.