Maria Sue Chapman, the five-year-old daughter of veteran Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, was accidentally struck and killed by a car last week. As I read the news of Maria’s death, I asked God my most oft-repeated question: Why?
On learning the details, I shifted to a more accusatory question: How could you allow this, God? Some of the Chapman children witnessed the accident in the family’s driveway. The driver who accidentally hit Maria was her 17-year-old brother. And their mother, Mary Beth, has long struggled with depression. From my perspective, the loss was too much for the Chapman family. From my perspective, God should have stopped the car.
Throughout my youth, I thought questioning life events—including suffering—was wrong because, some Christians told me, God has a purpose and plan for everything. A Christian naturally responds with absolute faith, they said, because “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Some people even cited the story of Job and told me, “Job never questioned God.” So I feigned faith. I did my best to express the trust and peace I thought all Christians possessed.
Yet when, as an adult, I read the book of Job, I saw he indeed questioned God. Early in his suffering, Job wishes he’d never been born. This desire is surely a question about God’s will and plan, since God gave Job life. Job becomes increasingly accusatory: “Why does God let me live when life is miserable and so bitter?” (Job 3:20, CEV); “God has made my days drag on and my nights miserable” (7:3). Job even asks questions similar to mine: “Why is life so hard? Why do we suffer?” (7:1).
Two years ago, my friend Rosie asked those very questions when she lost her 39-year-old husband, Gordon, to cancer. Because Rosie had prayed and believed God would restore her husband’s health, she was spiritually devastated at Gordon’s death.
I was, too, because I’d believed God would offer some meaning for Gordon’s horrific physical suffering. At the least, I’d thought God would give family members and friends total peace, assuring them Gordon was in heaven. We had much peace, but we also had much pain—and many questions: Why did God allow this cancer? Why did he take Gordon away from his kids, a toddler and a teenager?
The Bible outlines several reasons for suffering: It can develop character and spiritual maturity; it can provide opportunities to share faith; it can correct sin; it can prepare for comforting others; and it can bring glory to God. Yet, such knowledge may be meaningless to the sufferer. Knowledge doesn’t always soothe. Quoting Romans 8:28 repeatedly hasn’t removed my questions. I haven’t found any pat answers or fast fixes for the problem of suffering. More often, the only meaningful prayer for me and suffering friends is, “Why, God?”
Too many Christians expect faith to come easily. Effortlessly. I used to think, I’ll never understand why suffering exists, so I just need to have faith—as if I were born with deep, mature faith! But perfect faith isn’t innate, nor does it come with salvation. Rather, faith has grown gradually in me. It seems to grow when I suffer or share others’ suffering, when I’m so overwhelmed that I run to God in prayer.
And in that desperation, my prayers are often anxious, furious, or miserable. I certainly don’t approach God with trust and peace. But faith doesn’t grow if I try to fake it. Instead, those moments of emotional rawness are the times I’m most receptive to hearing God out.
Perhaps God wanted me to struggle with the concept of suffering while witnessing Gordon’s illness, and now while reading about the Chapmans. I need to pray honestly: “God, I have no idea why you’re allowing suffering. Frankly, I don’t trust your plan right now, and I don’t see any good coming from this pain. But I do recognize you’re God: You fully understand the purpose of human suffering. I’m glad I can unload my frustration and confusion on you. Please use these events to teach me and others.”
When I pray honestly, I rarely receive my desired answers. God’s never shown me suffering’s ultimate purpose. He simply allows me to wrestle with the “Why?” question to expose my hurt and mistrust. And I’m starting to realize that to get to real faith, I need to start with real doubt.