SUSAN’S questions about God began at age seven, when her nine-year-old friend Al was hospitalized with polio and confined to an iron lung. She wrote about her experience in the January 6, 2013, issue of The New York Times.
After visiting Al in the hospital, Susan asked her mother: “Why would God do that to a little boy?”
“The priest would say God must have his reasons,” her mother replied, “but I don’t know what they could be.”
Two years later, in 1954, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine became available, and Susan’s mother suggested that perhaps God had guided his research.
“Well, God should have guided the doctors a long time ago so that Al wouldn’t be in an iron lung,” Susan replied.
Susan summed up the account of her childhood experience by writing: “[Al] was to die only eight years later, by which time I was a committed atheist.”
Like Susan, many people who have suffered from tragedy or have witnessed it are unable to find satisfying answers to their questions about God. Some become atheists. Others may not entirely deny God’s existence, but they become skeptical.
It is not that atheists and skeptics are completely unfamiliar with religion. On the contrary, their experience with religion is often what pushes them toward disbelief. Organized religion, they may feel, has failed to answer life’s tough questions. What kind of questions? Ironically, they are often the same questions that people who claim to have faith in God struggle with. Consider three questions that many people would like to ask God, if given the chance, and the answers that the Bible provides.
1 “WHY DO YOU ALLOW SUFFERING?”
Why ask that question?
‘A loving God would prevent life’s tragedies,’ many conclude.
TO THINK ABOUT: We might find the habits and customs of people from another culture to be strange—perhaps even shocking. We could easily misinterpret their actions. For example, in one culture people feel that maintaining eye contact is a sign of sincerity; in another they see it as a sign of disrespect. Yet even in such cases, there would be no reason to say that they are wrong. Instead, we just need to get to know them better.
Could something similar happen when it comes to understanding God? Many believe that the presence of suffering proves that God does not exist. Others, though, who have come to understand why God has allowed suffering, are confident that he does exist.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: God’s thoughts and ways are different from ours. (Isaiah 55:8, 9) Because of that, his actions, as well as his reasons for waiting before he acts, may at first seem strange to us.
Still, the Bible does not ask us to accept such hollow expressions as “God works in mysterious ways.” Instead, it encourages us to learn more about God, helping us to understand why and when he acts as he does.* We can even draw close to him.—James 4:8.
2 “WHY IS RELIGION FULL OF HYPOCRISY?”
Why ask that question?
‘If God appreciated sincerity,’ some might reason, ‘there wouldn’t be so much pretense among those who claim to worship him.’
TO THINK ABOUT: Imagine a son who rejects his father’s fine upbringing and leaves home to lead a corrupt life. Although the father does not approve, he allows his son to make that choice. Could those who later meet the son rightfully conclude that he had a bad father or even that he had no father at all? Of course not! Likewise, hypocrisy in religion only proves that God allows people to choose their own path in life.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: God hates religious hypocrisy. (Jeremiah 7:29-31; 32:35) At the same time, he allows people to exercise free will. Many who claim to believe in God choose to follow man-made religious teachings and their own brand of morality.—Matthew 15:7-9.
In contrast, religion that God approves is not hypocritical.* Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) This love must be “without hypocrisy.” (Romans 12:9) Most religions have failed to live up to that standard. During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, for example, tens of thousands of religious people slaughtered members of their own faith, simply because those people were of a different tribe. In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not share in the massacre, and many of them protected fellow believers and others, even risking their life to do so. Such selfless acts prove that religion can be free of hypocrisy.
3 “WHY ARE WE HERE?”
Why ask that question?
Some may wonder: ‘Why do humans live for only 80 or 90 years and then die? What is the purpose of such a brief existence?’
TO THINK ABOUT: Many who do not believe in God still recognize the need to account for the complexity, intricacy, and order of the natural world. They perceive that our planet, other planets, and the moon are configured in just the right way to sustain life on earth. They describe the natural laws that govern the universe as being fine-tuned, perfectly set so that even the slightest alteration would make life on earth impossible.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: While many people view our relatively brief life span as proof that there is no God, the natural world gives ample evidence that there is a Creator. (Romans 1:20) He had a purpose in making these things, and the reason for our existence is closely linked to his purpose. God created humans to live forever on the earth, and he has not abandoned his purpose.—Psalm 37:11, 29; Isaiah 55:11.
While we can discern God’s existence and even some of his qualities through the natural world, God did not intend for us to perceive his purpose that way. For us to know God’s purpose, and hence the meaning of our existence, we need communication from God. In the Bible he communicates with us, using simple, direct terms.* Jehovah’s Witnesses invite you to take a fresh look at the answers found there.
For the reason why God allows suffering, see chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also available at www.jw.org.
For more information, see chapter 15 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also available at www.jw.org.
For more information, see chapter 3 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also available at www.jw.org.