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God is not the source of suffering

April 24, 2023

Daily Scripture

Genesis 1:27-28, Isaiah 56:10 - 57:2

Genesis 1

27 God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them [Hebrew has singular him, referring to humanity],
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”

Isaiah 56-57

10 The lookouts are blind;
they all lack sense.
They are all mute dogs that can’t bark,
dreamers, loungers, loving to sleep.
11 But the dogs have monstrous appetites.
They never have enough.
They are shepherds who don’t understand.
All of them have turned to their own ways,
every last one greedy for profit.
12 “Come! I’ll get some wine!
Let’s drink beer!
Tomorrow will be like today, or even much better.”
57 1 The righteous person perishes,
and no one takes it to heart.
Loyal people are gathered together,
and no one understands that because of evil
the righteous one passed away.
2 They will find peace;
those who walk in straight paths
will find rest on their burial beds.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

One common explanation for suffering doesn’t hold up well. “If ‘everything happens for a reason,’ and by that we mean it is part of God’s plan, then we have really said… ‘God willed for this thing to happen.’ If God willed it, then God actually caused it to happen.” * The Isaiah passage did not blame God for suffering. It said Israel’s failing, self-serving leaders, greedy for profit, let their “flock” come to harm. People, not God, caused suffering—“because of evil the righteous one passed away.”

  • The prophet focused on the bad results of leaders’ evil behavior. He promised God’s continued presence, even at times of suffering, promising that the righteous “will find peace.” In the ancient Hebrew drama of Job, God never gave the explanations Job first asked for. But Job found that God’s presence meant more than any “why” answers (cf. Job 42:4-6). How can God’s caring presence with you matter more than any abstract explanation?
  • Genesis 1 said “human beings are given responsibility to ‘have dominion’ over the earth; to act on God’s behalf in managing, tending, and ruling over the planet…. God’s primary way of ruling and acting on our planet is through people. When God wants something done in the world, God calls people to do it.” ** Genesis 3 showed archetypally that that “dominion’s” freedom also allowed humans to make bad choices. How do bad choices, personal or communal, cause suffering?

O Lord, you are not a God who infuses your children with cancer or sends cars careening into one another. Even when we hurt because things like that happen, you stay with us. Thank you for your steadfast love. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Emily Stirewalt

Emily Stirewalt

Emily Stirewalt is an ordained Elder in the Missouri Annual Conference, and has served since 2007. She is thrilled to be specializing in pastoral care of elderly adults now as Resurrection's Silverlink Pastor. She is married to Randall, a special education teacher. They have two daughters, Elliott and Marlowe. When Emily is not in a care home sharing communion or with her family on another Kansas City adventure, you can find her curled up on the couch at home binge watching "Friends" or "Golden Girls."

I’ll never forget the feeling I had on September 11th, 2020. Yes, of course that date will sound familiar to anyone of us who remembers 2001, but I am not talking only about remembering the terrorist attacks that had happened 19 years before this story I have to share.

That was the first night I was scheduled as the on-call chaplain at a hospital during a residency program. At about 10 pm, the NICU paged me, and a nurse timidly shared with me that they did not know what to do for this new mom and dad who were very upset. Mom had delivered twin baby boys just hours before but sadly, she had tested positive for COVID-19 when admitted to the hospital. The babies were whisked away, and they had only met their sons through a camera. When I arrived at the unit, I was told that the dad was very upset. In the room, I found someone who I assessed to be suffering from some post-traumatic stress from being a soldier in Afghanistan, following, you guessed it, September 2001. He was angry and totally triggered by not only the date on the calendar but now by life’s circumstances that he and his wife were facing together. New parents in a global pandemic, and unable to hold their new babies.

“Why did they send you in, chaplain? All you are going to do is tell us that ‘everything happens for a reason’ or some other stupid stuff!” (okay, his actual language was much more colorful, as you can probably imagine)…

I shared that I was simply there to listen, to hear them lament, scream, ask questions…whatever they needed in that moment. We talked about their faith stories. It was about an hour-long visit. The best thing that could have happened, did happen at the end of the visit. Dad decided to go home and cool off for the night, come back in the morning, get a clean COVID test and meet his babies. The nurses could not believe they (especially he) had calmed down with my visit. I told them all I did was listen.

When people are suffering, our temptation to tell them that God caused it is a real struggle we have all faced. I believe it is because we are uncomfortable with simply being with people in their questions, fears and maybe even anger. But when we resist the urge to blame God for the bad stuff of life, we are set free to be the hands and feet of Jesus for people when they need him the most.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sense of God’s Will. Abingdon Press. Location 105, Kindle Edition.
** Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sense of God’s Will. Abingdon Press. Location 156-170, Kindle Edition.