Nellie was laid to rest one, October afternoon.  She was eight years of age when complications from HIV/AIDS robbed her life.

Nelly on Left
Nellie on Left

Nellie contracted HIV/AIDS from her mother’s breast-milk.  When her mother died of this terrible disease, someone left her in a box outside an orphanage.  She was a beautiful, vibrant, active little girl.  She loved to hear Bible stories at bedtime.  While serving with a team assisting in AIDS/orphans ministry, she sat on my lap as I told her stories from the Bible.  When the email informed me of her passing, it stabbed my heart and caused me to implore “why?”

Why does God allow such suffering?

I witnessed first-hand the devastation of the Haiti earthquake that rocked thousands of lives. Last March, I walked among tens of thousands displaced by tribal war in South Sudan. Perhaps one man summed up the despair best when he told me, “The only thing that is trampled when two bull elephants fight is the grass between them.”  I can picture today the face of the woman in New York after Hurricane Sandy, who screamed at me, “Have they forgotten us?”  I am still haunted by a question asked of me by a survivor of the Japan tsunami that swept countless victims out to sea.  And, I confess that each of these drove me to look upwards as I cried for God to give me answers.

Why does a good God allow such suffering?

I confess to you today that I have no answer to this deep question.  The Bible dares to be honest, as it teaches us that life is not always easy and painless.  God chooses not to give a definitive answer for the question of suffering.  Rather than answer the question of “Why,” the Bible chooses to focus on the “Where.”

Where is God in the suffering?

God is on the side of those who suffer.  We live in a fallen, sin-plagued world where disasters strike and evil lurks, but God has not abandoned us.  God sent Jesus Christ into the muck of this world and declared Him to be, “Immanuel, which is translated God is with us”(Matthew 1:23).  Scripture further declares of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).  God demonstrated His love and compassion for us by sending Jesus Christ, who declares, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  God has not promised a world without hardship and trials, but He has promised to be with us.

Secondly, I would encourage you that God comes to those who suffer through His church.  Perhaps, our light of the church never shines brighter than when we come to those who suffer or minister to the “least of these.”  If the church does its job, then people do not wonder where God is.  They see him in the hands of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief workers.  They see him in the feet of those who go to care for widows and orphans.  They hear His voice as we offer compassion to the broken and discouraged.  Demonstrating a Christ-like presence brings relief to broken hearts, healing for open wounds, and resurrected hope to those wrapped in despair.

Finally, I would encourage you that God is preparing a new home for those who are His.  The suffering and evil of this world may wound us, but they do not have the final word.  Someday, our great God will usher us into a home that He is preparing  that will be safe from the enemy’s terrible hand.  The Bible offers the only real hope for our suffering when it declares emphatically about a coming day when:

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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