I remember Ronald Nash one time and said that if you doubt God’s existence for anything other than the problem of pain, you are a fool. I thought that that statement was confusing, profound, understanding, and somewhat foolish.
However, I do think I understand what he meant. We can empathize with people and their struggles with pain more so than a shortcoming and rational thought.
When I first entered ministry, I remember people coming to me, including my family members, complaining about God. I felt like God’s punching bag. No, not the one that he is punching, but the one people strike believing it is God. “Have a problem with God? Come beat me up over it!” I suppose it comes with the territory. It was always in the context of suffering and pain. Back then, I used to do my best to defend God and give an accounting for the rationale behind the current circumstance that is bringing trouble. However, I no longer do that. I normally just go down the tubes with them. I enter their confusion, knowing that God is a baffling God in many ways, especially when it comes to the darkest turmoil.
“I have no idea why He is doing this. I’ll be mad at Him with you.” Some semblance of that is both more honest, and, in many ways, more comforting. We all live in a world, where God is truly the most enigmatic part of it. Yes, he is the most gracious, loving, understanding, empathetic, and every other good adverb we could throw at him. But we cannot fail to recognize the mystery of God, often in the most important times of our life.
I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ most haunting and possibly profound words he ever put to paper. After writing the intellectual treatise The Problem of Pain” real pain came into his life with the death of his wife. He pulled together this thought at the beginning of A Truth Observed:
“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.” (Lewis, C. S. A Grief Observed [Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis], 3, HarperCollins).
Sitting before who God really is is the most important thing we can do at times when a friend is suffering. He is ineffable, inscrutable, and, so often, unsearchable. This attitude does not put up the white flag of belief. It would indeed be a fool’s errand to sacrifice the most basic truth of all rationality at this point. But there is something spectacular about surrendering before his inscrutability regarding our pain. It’s not giving up, it is trusting he knows what he is doing.