Suffering is always a hard thing to explain. Not so much because the Bible does not give us an answer but rather it hits us where we are the most vulnerable, in our grief.
When suffering is a barrier to someone believing about God it usually isn’t because they cannot believe God exists, rather it’s ‘how can I believe in a God that just sat by and let this happen’. The Bible tells us God doesn’t just sit back, rather when suffering occurs he grieves. The Bible shows us this in how Jesus reacted to his friend’s death Lazarus. Remember Jesus is God so how he reacts is the same way God would react.
In John chapter 11 you can read about how the death of Lazarus affects Jesus. Upon seeing the mourners of Lazarus, Jesus weeps. He cries. God is actually crying here. The amazing thing is Jesus has come to bring Lazarus back from the dead, but he is so deeply moved by the sight of people mourning for the loss of a loved one that he also weeps. When your friend’s girlfriend died God, just as Jesus did with Lazarus, would have been weeping. So the answer to the question what was God doing when she died is, he was weeping with the mourners. This is God’s emotional response to his love for all of us.
The second thing God is doing about suffering is that he has a day where he will end all suffering. This day is known as Judgement Day or Jesus’ second coming. When Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago he did so, so that we may be forgiven of all the times we have rebelled against God and each other. This in itself was a great act of suffering on Jesus’ part (read Luke chapter 22 to the end of Luke to see what happened). Jesus rose from the dead and is now seated on God’s throne in heaven. As such Jesus is in a position to end all of our suffering and will do so when he returns to Earth one day, when that is no one knows.
So why then hasn’t Jesus just come down and ended all of our sufferings now? Well the answer lies in what that would mean for you and me. When Jesus returns he will judge everyone. A Christian will be judged innocent because they will be judged on the basis on what Jesus did (lived the perfect life) as they have put their trust in him. On the other hand the non-Christian will be judged on the basis of what they have done in their life, the Bible tells us that no one has been perfect (except Jesus) Romans chapter 3, as such all will be judged guilty and condemned. Sounds harsh, but remember a good judge (God) must punish evil and either we are punished or we follow Jesus who was punished instead of us. In the end Jesus has not returned yet because he is waiting for as many people as will, to become Christians so that they may be forgiven. God hasn’t ended suffering yet because to do so would mean judging people who would become Christian and be saved. Matthew chapter 13 gives us a picture of this in Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 13, verse 36-40.
MT 13:36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
MT 13:37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
MT 13:40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
The most important thing for you to do is agree with your friend that the death of his girlfriend is horrible, and that God agrees too. Continue to talk to him about God but do this always with love and always pray for your friend.
Also for further information about suffering check out some of the podcasts of Sydneyanglicans.net. There is one ‘Who can make sense of life when it is cruel and unjust?’.