A reader presented me with the most amazing question the other day. I won't pretend to know the answer, but I do have some thoughts...
It is related to this post about why God allows bad things to happen.
Question: I am having great difficulty with understanding how God could have allowed this abuse. I read your intellectual explanation which I have heard before regarding free will. I believe in free will, but if I witnessed one of my daughters being abused do you think I would stand still?
In my limited human wisdom, I absolutely would intervene if I knew one of my children was being harmed. As a mother, I always interject myself into my kids' lives whenever I feel it's necessary. And God charges me with that responsibility! It is up to me (just like it was up to my parents) to protect my kids, but in my humanity I can only do so much. I pray daily for his direction in mothering, so that I am hopefully acting in God's will and not my own. However, my wisdom and foresight is limited. God, on the other hand, is all-knowing and sovereign. His plans are perfect (no matter how unsavory at the time), his provision overwhelming (no matter how lonely I sometimes feel). God does not fail. He always triumphs over evil.
Let me interject here to say that I do not believe it is ever GOD'S will for a child to be abused. That is entirely HUMAN SIN, but God can use even the most heinous acts for his glory. It is never God's will for a parent to ignore child abuse or knowingly put their child in harms way. I just mean to say that everything rests in God's hands and He can use every good and bad thing that happens to glorify Him and minister to us -- but we must choose to allow that to happen.
If God had run interference in my abuse, my life would be completely different.
Most obviously, I would not have this ministry. God would not have used my story of abuse and miraculous restoration to reach others. He would have spared my one life, but would have left countless others without this resource.
He might not have cultivated in my heart a constant concern for children in need. And, without that, my family might not do the advocacy work we do with foster and abused children. The four hearts that reside under our one roof might be bent towards those in pain.
And most importantly, I don't think I would have the relationship I have today with my heavenly father. While being abused was no picnic, there is an inexplicable closeness when one wakes up one day and realizes the only thing they have is their savior Jesus Christ. In having no one else, I learned to cling to Christ like a life preserver in the stormiest seas.
I had a sweet conversation with a girlfriend one night... She and her husband had relatively charmed childhoods, raised in church, never knowing a day without God and their loving families. Now in their 30's, they are both looking to claim their relationships with Christ as their own. They have never fallen flat on their faces, needing Christ to lift them up. For them, it is often easy to take their easy-breezy lives for granted and forget all about God. That doesn't happen in my life. I know full well what it means to speak with my Father God, as I have no other parent to turn to.
As a mom, I do everything I can to protect my children. But my knowledge is limited. I do not know what God knows. I do not know what the future holds. Only God knows what he's going to use in each of our lives to fulfill his purpose. I can't put my human limitations and responses on God. I cannot expect him to behave the way I would.
But his perceived inaction is not proof of an unloving or neglectful god.
At my very first Christian counseling session, I was given some homework...
Read the story of Joseph, Genesis chapters 37-50. Write down any circumstance of Joseph's that was similar to my own life. I learned a great deal through this exercise. Families have been in the business of failure and betrayal since the beginning of time. One can be grossly mistreated and still come out on top. God knows how to use all suffering for good. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people." Genesis 50:20. How powerful is that?
Another piece of my homework was to claim a life verse. I couldn't pick just one, so I went with two... "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5 and "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18.
I am not an orphan. God is close. He saves!
Terrible things happen to both good people and bad people... In fact, everyone will face some sort of tragedy in their lifetime; whether it be crime, illness, death, natural disaster, etc. When those bad things happen, God is with us and always has a plan to use it to draw us - and others - closer to Him.
To my anonymous asker, I love your question. I don't have all the answers and I understand completely if you don't embrace my thoughts... I do know that God is bigger than me. He is wiser than any parent. He knows our every secret and heartache. He does not stop every bad thing from happening - even when it seems so obvious to us that he should - but He does have a plan to use every bad thing for good. Our pains are so deep and so personal. What happened to you is not okay...and it's understandable that you would feel confused, angry, hurt or even betrayed by God. He is big enough to handle your every thought, so take it to Him in prayer. Be honest with how you feel, and allow God to reveal himself to you. His grace and love is sufficient. Know that I am praying for you as you process through the pain of your past.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” Isaiah 55:8-13