Why Did My Sister Die?

by Wes Moore

You may not know this, but Ted Turner once planned to be a Christian missionary (if you aren’t aware, he is now a vocal atheist). His slide from faith started when his younger sister, Mary Jane, came down with a horrible disease. The National Review put it this way:

All his prayers for [Mary Jane’s] recovery — an hour a day, he said — were for naught. “She used to run around in pain, begging God to let her die,” he recalled. “My family broke apart. I thought, ‘How could God let my sister suffer so much?'” [1]

For those who believe in a loving God, death and suffering is one of the most difficult issues to deal with. If you view God as love, how can you reconcile evil, suffering, and death? How do you answer Mr. Turner’s very valid question: How could God allow my sister to suffer so much?

The Struggle for Answers
Philosophers and Christians have written extensively on this subject over the years. So much of the time, however, their attempts to explain the existence of death and suffering fail because they attempt to theorize from man’s point of view. In other words, they look at the problem from the ground up, not the heavens down.

In this article we want to put the question to God Himself. After all, if He was here before death and suffering began, He should know how and why it started in the first place. So, let’s open the Bible and let God explain this difficult issue for us. We’ll do this by answering two important questions:

    1. How did it start in the first place?

    2. What has God done about it?

A Preliminary Observation
Before we get started delving into the specific answers to these questions, let me make an important foundational point. That point is this: if you are suffering now, God cares about you and your situation.

Even though we’ll have to look at some hard truths about our past to answer the question facing us, don’t let that cloud the reality that the God who made you cares deeply about your life, hurts when you hurt, and stands by to help you if you ask Him to.

Don’t forget this. Pray to Him now and He will send the help you need.

How did death and suffering start?
Let’s go back to the Bible and to the beginning for our answer. The book of Genesis reveals this:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

So, in the beginning there was no death or suffering. All of creation was good (God actually summarized His work of creation by calling it “very good” in Genesis 1:31). Think about it: no cancer, no bad guys, no wars, no sorrow.

Then God gave man a test of obedience, a simple restriction on his actions. “Don’t do this,” He said. The punishment set for disobedience was death. What happened? Adam, representing man, decided to test God’s Word; he violated the Creator’s only restriction and paid a terrible penalty. [2]

What really happened in the garden?
Let me give you an illustration that will help you picture what happened when Adam rebelled against the Creator’s command. Think of the earth and its relationship to the sun, its source of life. When the earth is in the right relationship with the sun, the earth receives life at its fullest.

However, if the earth begins to move away from the sun, slipping out of that perfect relationship, death enters in. And, if the earth moves too far from the sun, complete death would ensue.

In the same way, when man is in the right relationship with the source of all life, moral and physical, namely God, he receives God’s life at its fullest. This was the state on earth before Adam rebelled. However, if man moves away from God, only death can enter in, both moral and physical.

This is essentially what happened in the garden. Man said to God — the source of life — “Thanks, but we really don’t need you and your rules around.” So God pulled away and took part of His life with Him.

Now we find ourselves in an in-between stage, partially removed from the life of God, but not completely. We still have physical life, though we get sick and die, and we have some semblance of moral life, though we murder, rape, and lie.

At the end of time, many will be separated from the life of God totally; the Bible calls this place Hell, the Second Death. Furthermore, others, who have been brought back to the perfect relationship with God, will enter Heaven.

What has God done about it?
While there are some things we cannot answer for certain, we can say for certain what God has done about the suffering and death that plagues our planet. Here are a few of the more important things.

    1. He relieves suffering now. God cares and provides for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden. And He commands His people to care for them. Even in the Old Testament law we see the mercy and kindness of God. When bringing in the summer crop, God commands, “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf. Do not go back and get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19).

    2. He suffered in our place. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, stepped into history, not to be treated like a dignitary, but to enter the world of suffering He allowed so that He could do something about it. He died so the distance between you and God — that brought about death and suffering in the first place — could be removed. [3]

    3. He promises one day no more. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne,” wrote Saint John, “saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them… He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'” (Revelation 21:3-4). Death, suffering, and evil are temporary! They did not exist in the beginning, were never God’s perfect intention, and will one day soon be removed forever.

So why am I suffering now?
“This is all well and good,” you say. “This explains the past and enlightens the future. But what about my suffering now? Why has God brought this suffering into my life?” Worthy questions.

If you are without faith in Jesus of Nazareth and trust in the God of the Bible, whatever the situation you face, it is to show you that you need a higher power in your life — you need God. God has the unique ability to break us. We are so arrogant, so self-reliant. If you struggle today, throw your whole life on Him. He will show you the way through.

If you are a person with faith in Jesus and the God of the Bible, there are many reasons God may be bringing this difficulty to you now. But one you may not have realized is this: to answer your prayers. Have you ever prayed for greater trust in God, more compassion, more inner strength, or more peace? Trials are the way God produces these things in you.

There is a devotional I love to read. The August 3 entry is one of my favorites; it reads as follows:

Never pray for an easier life — pray to be a stronger person. Never pray for tasks equal to your power — pray for power equal to your tasks. Then doing your work will be no miracle — you will be the miracle. [4]

Why is there death and suffering? Part remains a mystery, but this is sure — we got ourselves into it, but the good God who made us, by His great power, is bound to bring something good out of it, both now and into eternity.

Rod Dreher, “God Bless Ted Turner,” 11 February 2003, National Review Online; available from http://www.nationalreview.com/dreher/dreher021103.asp; Internet, accessed 13 August 13, 2008.
The Bible teaches us that Adam acted as the representative of all mankind in the garden (Romans 5:12). Therefore, when Adam sinned, we all — the entire human race — were there with him. Similarly, God allows the life of Christ to represent all who believe, even though we are not sinless as He was (Hebrews 4:15). So, God applies the rule of substitution fairly for both sin and righteousness.
I am not implying that we experience suffering because of some particular sin we have committed. But, I am trying to show that we can’t really act self-righteous with Adam, as if we would choose differently, when we are so guilty ourselves.
[4] Philip Brooks, Streams in the Desert.