By Joel Webb

One of the buzzwords in our culture is that of “deconstructing,” when people of (usually Christian) faith begin a process of tearing down their beliefs and often becoming atheistic. What has led to this phenomenon that has grabbed a hold of many, especially in the younger generations? While there are many who go down various tracts of talking about various elements of spiritual abuse, toxic environments, bad theology and hypocrisy (all of which are reasons why people are deconstructing), one that many seem to be forgetting to address is the problem of pain and evil.

Much of the time, in our world full of brokenness and pain, we look at the problems and issues before us and seem to get frozen in a state of not knowing what to do. Much of our evangelical western Christian culture has given us the view that, in the face of pain and suffering, we are to unquestioningly respond that “God knows.” While we may be with people through their pain and suffering, it doesn’t really go beyond that. This, at least for me, was the way and method of dealing with pain and suffering.

“Don’t show your emotion, just swallow the tears, be stone-faced, and know God has it in the end.” Obviously, for someone on the pastoral track, that is not a very good way to conduct pastoral care!

I’m reminded of an example from the book “Growing Younger” of a young boy who went to his pastor asking the questions about pain and suffering. Sadly, that pastor gave the standard pat answers that were only surface level, relying on the fact that the boy would accept them at face value, not understanding that he was seriously trying to work through the realities of a good God in a world that is broken. After receiving those answers, the boy never darkened the door of a church again. That boy’s name was Steve Jobs.

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“… our response to God now in the face of suffering is very different from the characters in Scripture.

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Biblical or Modern Responses

What is the biblical example when it comes to pain and suffering? I have recently read Northeastern Seminary Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis J. Richard Middleton’s book called “Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God,” which deals with this very question. While it is a more academic work and goes deep into the text, I still find it is very accessible for the regular reader.

Middleton proposes, as I have come to agree with him, that our response to God now in the face of suffering is very different from the characters in Scripture. When confronted with God desiring to destroy Israel, Moses questioned God, and from that, God revealed His redemptive nature and spared the nation from destruction. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked His Father if the cup could be removed from Him. It was in that moment that Christ was strengthened and enabled to complete the redemptive work on the cross.

Why is this important? Because the idea of pushing back or questioning God goes right to the heart of His reason for creation. God wanted a family, people like Him who could know and love Him. How does one get to know another person? Through dialogue and understanding what motivates them, there is understanding and relationship. God designed us in His image to question and explore not just His creation (through science), but also to question and ask Him. When we question or inquire, we can start to know and understand the motivations behind what He does.

I recommend checking out Middleton’s book, because he elaborates this concept much more thoroughly than I ever could. The book is masterful. It goes to the heart of God’s desire to know each one of us, and lays out how, through our lamenting and questioning God, He meets us.

Maybe what often seems as our feeble and myopic responses to tragedy and suffering can be met with not just being present in that moment, but also filled with the hope that breaks through.

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“It is in these times of suffering that God can draw near to us.

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Going and Asking

For our modern day what is this to look like? First, in the face of suffering and pain, we should go to God. But how we go to God may need to look a little different. In Hebrews, we are encouraged to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Do we press in and ask God the what and why of what is going on? Do we recite who we know He is, and ask at this time why it is happening? It is in these times of suffering that God can draw near to us. Instead of being settled with “accepting the pain,” do we press into who God is, questioning what is going on. In turn, as we press in to know Him, we can start to understand that He does actually know us as He too understands the things we suffer (Hebrews 4:15–16).

Having this perspective could drastically change our interaction with pain and suffering in the world around us. If we had the response to pain as our default, would the answers we give as to why there is pain and suffering be more satisfying for those potentially deconstructing? It wouldn’t be a 100% bet, but it would provide a biblically grounded response that allows us to comprehend the reality of suffering and evil.

God isn’t scared of our questions and frustrations. He is a God who desires to be known and understood, and, if we ask, I truly believe He will answer. In any situation, we can take the time to not just be in the moment with those who are suffering, but, in associating with them, find the ways that God offers His redemptive path of hope as the Lord of all.

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Joel Webb serves as the worship and discipleship director at Blue Water Free Methodist Church in Port Huron, Michigan, where he also serves at a local pregnancy resource center. He is currently attending Northeastern Seminary and pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies, and he is a conference ministerial candidate in the East Michigan Conference. He has a passion for theology, technology and history, and he loves to see people encounter the transforming power of the gospel through discipleship and worship. He is married to his wife, Marissa, who teaches music in private Christian education. More about him, his writings and his “The Pastor’s Call” podcast can be found at joelvwebb.com.

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