God is good. So how could such a good God allow so much suffering?
Phoebe Ritter, Phoebe Ritter, and Phoebe Ritter
May 2, 2012
Filed under Opinions
My name is Phoebe Ritter, and I struggle with depression.
The difference God’s made in my own life:
Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve ever written that sentence down. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just the truth.
I’ve always known that depression runs in my family. It even caused my aunt to take her own life because of how bad it got. I’ve known this for a while now, through elementary school and sixth grade, I was so happy-go-lucky in life that depression rarely, if ever, crossed my mind. It’s not something the typical twelve-year-old needs to worry about, but around the beginning of seventh grade, my life went on a downward spiral.
I started to get this loneliness that overwhelmed me even though I had plenty of friends and a close family. There was no reason for me to be so upset all the time. I felt like nobody understood me. I started to question if anybody truly liked me at all. Every little thing that went wrong in life was magnified to the point where the slightest things could make me break down balling.
I often kept myself in solitude because in solitude, nothing could hurt me. There was no drama, no yelling, no stress. Just me. I still hung out with friends maybe once every weekend, but I’d lost an interest in almost everything, including spending time with others. At my lowest point in seventh grade, I found myself in a constant cycle of school, TV, homework, cry, sleep. I had constant headaches and was always fatigued.
The worst part was I convinced myself that I was fine. I told myself that it was something all people went through and it was just a normal part of life. If I let myself think there was ever something wrong with me, I felt weak, and I couldn’t speak up. There was a constant struggle inside of me between desperately wanting help and desperately wanting to fight through it on my own. I couldn’t bear the embarrassment I’d feel if anybody knew what was really going on.
As the months went on and summer finally came, I gradually started to get better and better. Three main things kept me going: my family, my friends, and my church.
I’d just like to say that the people in my life are awesome, and I’m constantly thanking God for them. Seriously, they rule.
Then, there’s church. I’d grown up in the church all my life, but it never ceased to amaze me how friendly everybody was there. Church helped me to see what true happiness looked like. Church was my hope that the future held something so much better than middle school and all the silly stuff I was going through.
Church itself was my inspiration, but God was my rock. I knew he loved me, would do anything for me, and had a plan for me, but I just couldn’t see it yet. My faith kept me from getting any worse than crying and solitude that year. All of my strength came from knowing that there was someone who would unconditionally love me no matter what.
By the time eighth grade came around, I’d gotten much better. Every day was still a struggle, but life seemed to only get better as time went on. Towards the end of eighth grade, I thought I was at my peak. I thought I was as happy as I’d ever be.
I figured that if that was as good as life would get, I would live it up as much as possible. I’d be a better friend, daughter, and sister. I’d be a better person. Because God had gotten me to this point, I felt obligated to live my life in a way that would honor him.
I wanted to make God proud, so I started to do everything that I’d been taught makes God happy. I prayed every night, I went to church, and I read my Bible. I tried my best to act like a “good Christian” should act. I even pretended to always happy and positive around my friends because maybe, just maybe, they’d see that I was different.
Looking back now, I can’t believe that it never crossed my mind that I might have been doing something wrong. I never thought that maybe this wasn’t what I’d been called to do: to fake happiness and strive for perfection. I’d been doing everything right, but something always felt a little off.
It shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. I shouldn’t have been crying and getting frustrated with myself over silly mistakes I’d make simply because they might ruin my image. I was blinded by my longing to share what God had done in my life. I never stopped to think about what God might actually want for my life because I was too busy with my own plans.
This new struggle lasted up until the beginning of ninth grade, when I’d finally reached my goal. Some of my friends were starting to be curious about my beliefs! I was so stoked; all my hard work had paid off! Unfortunately, to my total surprise and disappointment, my hard work had somehow backfired.
I had no idea how to answer their questions. They were such simple questions, but I couldn’t explain why I believed the things I did. I couldn’t even justify how I knew there was a God.
I got so frustrated. After all those years of going to church, I had to know more than this. But I didn’t. All I knew were the basic facts: God is good, God loves everyone, God cares for us, etc. But their questions completely threw me off track.
I tried my best to explain my views to them, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how little I knew about my own faith.
About a month later, I was wasting time in a bookstore at my old church when I picked up a book called The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask by Mark Mittelberg. While skimming through it, I was amazed. It answered all the questions I couldn’t explain for the life of me to my friends. It was perfect!
On that day, I thought I’d picked up the book solely with my peers in mind, but I had no idea that God had a totally different plan for me.
As I continued to read, lost in the perfect descriptions and examples it gave of God’s love, one chapter caught me totally off guard. The question it answered was “How could a good God allow so much suffering?” At first, I didn’t think much of it, but when I got to the end, I just stopped.
I’m not sure I’ve had so many memories pile down on me at once. I thought back to all my Friday and Saturday nights spent crying alone on my bed, not understanding why I felt the way I did. I relived all of my pain, despair, and frustration for the past 14 years of my life within a good ten minutes. I didn’t just remember my own anguish either. I thought of all the things that were wrong, unfair, and cruel in the world. I saw all the poverty, mourning, abuse, divorce, disasters and tears. I saw everything that was wrong with the earth God had created.
I realized how negatively I’d looked at the world my whole life without even noticing. I realized that although my faith had gotten me “out of” my depression, I’d never truly stopped feeling alone. I realized how I’d never fully let God into my life because in the back of my mind, I’d always resent him for deserting me when I needed him most.
At that point, I just broke down crying. I let myself admit how betrayed I’d felt by God for all the pain he’d put me through and all the pain he puts everyone in the world through. As I thought longer and longer, I came to the conclusion that although I’d known that God loved me and that he cared for everyone, I never truly believed it. There had always been this reminder in the back of my mind every time I felt close to God of how much I’d felt abandoned. I never really knew God at all.
Simply reading that one chapter changed the way I look at God more than I care to admit. As I read more and more, the easier it was for me to let go of my anger and think about my life from God’s perspective. I saw how much harder I’d made life on myself by mistakenly believing I’d been alone. I realized that God was watching me the whole time. He was always there for me, wanting desperately to help, but always getting shut down by my own stubbornness.
After a few hours of an overwhelming mix of joy and sorrow, I looked back on an entire year of wasted energy trying to be a “good Christian”. I thought about how wrong I’d been to try showing others the difference God had made in me, when I didn’t even have God in my life. In that moment, I went from just believing, to starting a relationship.
From that day until now, I’ve become so much more than I once thought possible. I still wake up everyday knowing that they’ll be new struggles and new hardships, but it doesn’t worry me because I know that I’m never alone. I don’t have to pretend I’m always happy and perfect because I know that there’s no point. God knows everything I’m feeling, and I know that it’s impossible to hide anything from him, so why try?
Church became less of a place to be around friendly people, and more of a place to grow in God. My life is nowhere near perfect, and it never will be, but know I can take comfort in the fact that God is helping me every step of the way. I also know I wouldn’t be able to write any of this down today without going through what I did, and If you have a couple more minutes to spare, I’d love to share what I’ve learned and lived by these past few years.
#1 – God really can relate!:
I don’t know about anybody else, but it used to bother me that we, as humans, are stuck down here while God gets to relax in heaven, but the truth is, he’s experience more than anybody in the world.
Because Jesus is God, and God is Jesus, that means that he knows more than most of us probably will ever know about life here on Earth. He’s been harassed, tempted, falsely accused, ridiculed, tortured, and even hung on a cross. Basically, God has been through more than most of us can even imagine!
God has had more than enough troubles, he can relate, and he can help you through your own.
#2 – Sometimes God just has to say no:
Last month at my church, the middle school pastor’s wife spoke about a poster she’d seen with a friend. It titled, “How to be a good parent”. The poster was a list of tips, and as she read them, she thought she agreed with most of the points, until she got to the very last one:
Say yes to Everything.
She then continued to speak on how she thought that was a bit ridiculous. If a parent said yes to everything, wouldn’t their kids grow up being completely spoiled? They’d be extremely lazy because they’d already have everything. They would have no will to work for anything in life because it’d all be given to them already.
The bible says that God is our heavenly father, and God wants us to be the best people we can be. If He gave us everything we ever wanted, wouldn’t we grow up to be just as spoiled and lazy as those kids? That’s not what God intends us to be like.
Take the movie Bruce Almighty for example. In the film, Bruce is given all the same powers as God, and when the overwhelming amount of prayer becomes too much, he creates an e-mail system that grants everybody’s request. Eventually, the world turns into chaos.
Because God isn’t in control anymore, there is no one who decides what should happen and what shouldn’t. People’s requests clash and turn simple situations into disasters when they both get what they asked for. If the movie hadn’t ended with God taking back control, the world probably would have destroyed itself.
Unlike Bruce, God knows when to say no. He knows what situations people can handle and what they can’t. Without any issues in life, how could we become the people we are today?
#3 – He honestly wants what’s best for us:
God literally is the perfect parent, and he has emotions just like we do. He hates to see his children in pain, but he knows we’ll only come out of it that much better. Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”
Temptations, challenges, and overall struggles are meant to test you. Even if you mess up, lash out, or do something you’ll regret, you’ve still earned a lifelong lesson. Rather than get upset at God for putting you through what he did, feel proud.
God wouldn’t have challenged you in the way he had if he didn’t know you could handle it. Take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be able to handle tons of situations better than ever before. Plus, when you do succeed, it’s so exciting that you can’t help but glow with pride.
God can also use pain to lead us in ways we never imagined going. Whether it’s gaining the ability to sympathize with others and show them compassion, or guiding you towards a life with Him, God will guide you where you need to go.
#4 – Have faith:
Sometimes it may feel like God has abandoned us, but he’s been with us the whole way. In a lot of ways, the key component comes down to faith. Have faith that God will help you. Truly believe that He’s on your side and will never leave you. Also, fully trust that he knows what he’s doing.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
God works in mysterious ways. Nobody could ever fathom what he has in store for all of us, but that’s what makes life, life. We can never know what curveball is going to be thrown at us next.
Things don’t always go as we plan and at times the world seems hopeless, but God’s plans are not the same as ours. If you put your faith in Him, God will provide. All he asks is that you give him your all. All your trust. All your love. All your life. Believe me, I know this sounds impossible, but if you put him in charge, he’ll guide you the whole way.
One final thought:
Through my struggles in middle school, I’ve learned so much about myself and about God that it’s still hard for even me to believe. High school has caused me to question all that I am, but I think that’s good because it’s helped me to understand loads more than ever before. It’s to the point where I don’t even know how to begin explaining how much I’ve grown and changed.
I’d just like to end with the fact that God knows that we’re not perfect, but he loves us anyways! He cares for us and wants us to be the best we can be, which is why sometimes he has to challenge us in order to make us stronger. Because of my troubles throughout middle school, I’ve become the person I am today. I love being able to say that my happiness is completely genuine because for a long period in my life, it was far from it, and I only have God to praise.