How to face life’s hardest questions

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How to face life’s hardest questions

February 28, 2023 -

A thoughtful older man with gray hair in a gray sport coat rests his left hand on his chin while looking down in a pensive mood. © By insta_photos/

A thoughtful older man with gray hair in a gray sport coat rests his left hand on his chin while looking down in a pensive mood. © By insta_photos/

A thoughtful older man with gray hair in a gray sport coat rests his left hand on his chin while looking down in a pensive mood. © By insta_photos/

Los Angeles Bishop David G. O’Connell was beloved by his community. He worked to build trust between police and the community after the 1992 LA riots and was known for advocating for the poor and the immigrant. For his tireless, selfless ministry, he was respected across the social spectrum. “He was the help of the helpless and the hope of the hopeless,” as one official said.

A week ago Saturday, Bishop O’Connell was shot to death while sleeping in his bed. The husband of his housekeeper was charged last Wednesday in his murder.

In other news, the one-year anniversary of Russia’s immoral invasion of Ukraine was last Friday. A “snowmaker of epic proportions” moved through California late last week. And former US President Jimmy Carter remains in hospice after choosing to end medical treatments so he can spend his last days at home with his wife and family.

The last three stories are saddening but not shocking. Wars, natural disasters, and physical death have been part of the human story since the Fall. But the first is deeply troubling.

We believe that our God is all-knowing and all-sovereign, so he must know about and allow or cause all that happens. He is all-loving, so he can only want what is best. He is all-powerful, so he can do whatever he wants.

Why, then, would he allow a beloved bishop to be murdered in his sleep?

You and I have such faith questions. So does everyone we serve. We have stories in our past and present of unresolved issues, places and ways God has disappointed us. Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God remains a bestseller because we all understand its urgency.

What truth helps us in such times? How can we help those we serve when they face life’s hardest questions?

“Come, let us argue it out”

I have taught and written often over the years on the issue of evil and suffering since it is the greatest challenge to the Christian faith. (For example, see my website article, “Why does a good God allow bad things?”) In seminary classes and books, I typically survey seven approaches:

  • Some evil results from living in a fallen world.
  • Some evil results from Satan’s work in the world.
  • Some evil results from misused freedom.
  • God allows some evil to grow us spiritually.
  • God is using present challenges for future good.
  • The Lord feels what we feel and shares our suffering with us.
  • God redeems all he allows.

It is not hard to follow the logic of each of these biblical principles. But what do we do when they are not enough? When we still have our questions for God? When he still disappoints us?

I have claimed often over the years this invitation from God: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Isaiah 1:18). “Come” means to “walk, go, travel together.” “Now” adds the imperative: this is a present-tense, urgent command from our Lord.

“Let us reason together” means “let us argue it out.” The Hebrew word often carries judicial connotations describing the accused and the accuser arguing in a court of law. “Says the Lᴏʀᴅ” reminds us that this invitation is issued by God himself.

What does it mean in practical terms?

One: Value the life of the mind

We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, my emphasis). Some of the greatest heroes of biblical faith were also some of the most brilliant: Joseph, whose administrative genius as prime minister saved the nation of Egypt and his family; David, the great poet and statesman; Paul, the greatest student of the greatest teacher of his day; and the list goes on.

In our day, I think of the great pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson; the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins; the Princeton professor Robert P. George; and the Notre Dame philosopher professor Alvin Plantinga. And, of course, the great Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis, who could read Latin, Greek, Italian, German, and French along with English by the age of fifteen and graduated from Oxford University with three “firsts” (highest honors) in Greek and Latin literature, Philosophy and Ancient History, and English.

Faith and reason are partners, not enemies. This fact leads to our second observation.

Two: Be honest with God.

Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Job asked amidst his sufferings, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). Their questions are in the Bible for our sake, not just theirs.

Our omniscient Lord already knows our questions and struggles. When we admit them, we can then deal with them in faith. When we do not, they fester and the infection of doubt spreads in our souls.

Three: Take your questions about God to God.

Our Lord invites us: “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3). His word assures us: “If any of you lacks, wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

You cannot ask an omniscient God any question that he cannot answer. If you still do not understand, it may be that you cannot understand: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). A first-grader cannot understand calculus. Nor can our finite, fallen minds understand fully the nature and ways of God.

Or it may be that you cannot yet understand. His revelation is progressive, building on what we know to what we will one day know. We can claim his promise: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

“That break becomes God’s breakthrough”

So, let me ask you: What are your hardest questions for God? Where do you need to be honest with him? What disappointments and struggles do you need to bring to him? How can you help those you serve trust him?

The fact is, the less we understand God, the more we need to trust God. The sicker the patient, the more urgent the physician. Corrie ten Boom reminded us: “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

Br. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston writes: “In our lifetime, we do not lose our spiritual vulnerability. We would not want to lose it. How we come to know God, how God breaks through to us, is oftentimes through something broken in our lives. That break becomes God’s breakthrough, again and again.”

What “break” would you trust to your Father today?

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