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How do you answer a friend who is not a Christian but searching when she asks the question: Why did God let my baby die? This was one of the many questions asked during the biblical counseling conference I recently led in Soldotna, Alaska.
As an extension of that conference, I have been putting together a series of podcasts to work through the questions that could not be taken care of while we were together.
Listen to the podcast
Caveat: This podcast is not an exhaustive treatment of this subject. Hopefully, it will be a good beginning. If you want to learn more I would recommend you do two things:
One more thing: I would not recommend parroting this information verbatim to any person going through suffering. I’m speaking to you as a Christian. I do not know her.
You will have to factor in her maturity, wisdom, stability, and many other things to know how to carefully bring God’s truth to her. Each person is different. Your two main call to action points are compassion and competence, in that order (Romans 15:14).
Let’s begin with maybe the hardest truth of all:
One of the most important aspects about personal suffering is how we think about God when the suffering comes. To miss this aspect about suffering is to mishandle and misunderstand what is happening to us.
Suffering can be a means of grace to help us rethink about how we think about God. If our focus is more on our suffering than the God who is allowing the suffering, then it will be important to realign our thinking about God and the suffering, which is what you hope to accomplish with this lady.
I suspect part of what is going on here is that the Lord is drawing her to Himself, which is why she is asking questions about God and the death of her child. It also appears if she is asking you, then there has been some trust accrued between you two. The relational “bridge” you have built to share God with her will be challenged like no other time.
Five points for your consideration:
These are good truths to consider as you reflect on His mysterious and good intentions for people. One of the bigger issues to ponder during times of suffering is the silence of God.
Silence does not mean a lack of leadership. Just because God is not speaking, it would be wrong to assume He is not leading. Leadership is verbal and leadership can be silent.
It’s both/and because there are times when it is important for the Lord to choose silence over speaking. (The book of Job talks about the silence of God.)
(See Philippians 1:29 & 1 Peter 2:21 about our call to suffer.)
She is human. This means she has been cursed with all the sins of Adam. She struggles like us with fear, shame, guilt, a temptation to blame, hopelessness, lostness, and she is afraid to be vulnerable and transparent.
She is normal–very normal. She wants to know why her baby died. That is not a wrong question. Make sure she knows this. It is easy for suffering people to take on a false sense of guilt, or they may be tempted to accuse God of things they don’t understand. In this case, it’s not possible to fully understand why this happened to her (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Any person in her situation would be compelled to ask the God question. Where was God when all this went down?
That is a normal question, and typically after the question is asked and answered, the person will struggle. Most of the time the person is not satisfied with God’s answers (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The answer to her question is, God was there when all of this went down.
I think sometimes the question asker would prefer to think God was not there. After she realizes He was there, then the next question is obvious: Why didn’t He do something about it?
You will need to guard her heart here, as you walk her through a sound theology of suffering. To think God allows sin and suffering into our lives is hard for any of us to accept.
I suspect she will have a weak view of suffering and sovereignty. This is where the gospel can be most profound (Isaiah 53:10). To think it was the will of the Lord to crush His Son is stunning, as well it should be.
Not knowing something does not have to keep you from trusting something. (Chair illustration.) We will never fully encompass omniscience.
What Can Be Known
Appeal to her to think biblically about these things, seeking to turn what Satan meant for evil into something good (Genesis 50:20).
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
The deeper questions are: (tread carefully here)
There can be a sense of the guilt-shame-fear complex. Listen to her, while being ready to bring her back to the gospel. Give her a clear understanding of Paul’s perspective on condemnation, judgment, and fault-finding (Romans 9:20)
As you listen to her tragic narrative make sure you don’t become bogged down in the narrative. There are two ditches to stay out of: (1) never getting out of what happened to her and (2) moving too quickly or casually away from what happened.
You’re listening to her story for three main reasons:
Let her tell you the bad stuff and you tell her the good stuff. Ask God to show you when to move forward, but by all means, you must lead her forward.
Jesus listened to the woman at the well so she could communicate her perspective, but He did not fall into the trap of, “Oh my, what a horrible life you have had” and never moved forward.
He listened to see where she was and then began to bring a better understanding of her perspectives. Let your friend be appropriately problem-focused, but you lead her to a God-centered way of thinking–as you listen to her story.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. – Proverbs 3:5-7