Why was God or an angel not there when I was bleeding and beaten on the floor? I had to get the help [on my own]. Why did I have to suffer for so long and so young? I didn’t sin or hurt people—if anything, me being abused was protecting the others. But why? Why was there no one to save or to help me?
Editor’s Note: Because of the depth of pain in this question, three members of the Response Team have offered their perspectives. Two are ready at this time. We will add the third when it is finished.
Response One: I am so sorry you had these experiences. It hurts my heart to know this kind of thing happens, and that this happened to you.
To answer this is difficult, and there are not satisfying answers. An early church teacher, Irenaeus, spoke of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God allowing evil as a way of soul-making—that the existence of evil would help us be more aware of and draw us closer to God. There is a whole branch of theology devoted to this dilemma, called theodicy. However, it is wholly inadequate for addressing many of the horrors in this life, including those you experienced.
The best understanding I have of why situations like yours occur without God’s direct intervention is that God chose to create a world in which we were given free will—free will to choose God or not to choose God. Part of this free will means we have the freedom to hurt others. I am sure this hurts God, too. However, it seems there is something about redemption and salvation that requires us to respond directly and personally to God, and that it would somehow be ruined if God forced us to follow him. I am a parent, and think of the love of my children. I want them to choose to love me, I do not want to make them love me—and I cannot. The downside of this freedom is that we are also free to do great harm.
Response Two: I am so very sorry that this happened to you. The trauma you experienced at such a young age is heartbreaking. I join with you in weeping for the pain your younger self endured and the scars that linger still today. People are often capable of terrible actions toward each other. Call it sin. Call it evil. Either way it is an unmistakable sign of brokenness. The person who abused you was/is broken. I am so very sorry that you bore the brunt of that brokenness.
Sometimes people think that bad things happen to them because God is punishing them. Personally, I do not believe this, but the idea is definitely out there. “If you are suffering, it means you have done something wrong.” This is not a helpful response to the question of why we suffer, as you even point out in your question. “Why did I have to suffer?” you asked, “I didn’t sin or hurt people.” Exactly. The abuse you endured wasn’t because you did anything, and it wasn’t God punishing you. It was the abuser taking advantage of the power he or she had over you and causing you deep pain. In other words, the brokenness belonged to the abuser, not to you.
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is a huge question. People have been asking this question probably since the beginning of time. There are many, many books on the topic—one, in fact, called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. We have received several questions about the problem of suffering through this Questions Ministry too. You can find some other responses here.
For me, I think bad things just happen. Sometimes unspeakably bad things happen—as you experienced when you were young. We can’t get away from pain and suffering because they just are. They are a part of living in these mortal bodies (for example, the suffering that comes from disease), and they are part of living in a world where people struggle with their own brokenness (for example, the person who abused you). Pain and suffering just are.
So what do we do with the pain and suffering we experience? Well, when we are in the moment of crisis, we put all our strength into surviving. Making it through. Doing what we have to do to keep going through the valley of shadows. But then, once we are on the other side of the pain—once we are safe and on the road to healing—we can look back and say to ourselves, “Look at that! I made it through. I am strong. I am resilient. I am me—wholly and fabulously me!” And, once we are safe and on the road to healing, we can look around with eyes more attuned to see the struggles that others are going through. Then we do what we can to help them because we’ve been there, and we know what it takes to survive.
Where is God in all this? The answer I have received through my faith and my personal experience is that God is right beside me. Right there always. Weeping with me when I am weeping. Comforting me. Mourning with me. Giving me the strength to make it through. And, healing me when I’m on the other side of the pain.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” Psalm 23 says, “I fear no evil, for You, O God, are with me.” Notice the way that is phrased: even though. In other words, the valleys will come. The suffering will come. The pain will come. Even though I walk in all those difficult places, the psalm says, God is walking there too, never abandoning me to the pain. In my experience, I have felt God as a presence within me—rather than a bodily presence coming to my aid in the way you describe in your question. But that’s just my experience; others may have the experience of a bodily presence.
I think I hear in your question that you felt abandoned by God in your greatest moment of need. I am sorry for that too. And it makes me think of Jesus’ own prayer from the cross. When he was in his greatest moment of need, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In other words, why have you abandoned me? He was praying the words of Psalm 22 in that moment. If you are looking for God in the memories of your painful experiences, perhaps this might be a pathway to discover where God was in those awful times.
You might want to spend some time with Psalm 22. You can even say what Jesus did out loud, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” (I mean, if Jesus can pray such a prayer, then surely we can!) “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” Say it as many times as you need to, as many times as you want to. Shout it. Whisper it. Write it down in a prayer journal. “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” And then wait. Wait and see what thoughts come to your mind, what images rise up.
When I pray like this, I begin to realize that new thoughts come into my mind. Things I never realized before, things I never saw before. I believe these are messages from God. Sometimes we call this the “still, small voice of God” (1 Kings 19:12); sometimes we call it the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But either way, it has helped me to recognize that God was actually there for me, even though I didn’t see it at the time. I was not as alone as I had thought. Maybe this will be of help to you as you continue your healing journey. My prayers will be with you.