My friend is at home in bed, dying of cancer. Why does God let it go on so long?

I’m not the only one to ask that question. Psalm 6:3 asks, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” And Psalm 13:1 also asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

Time and again throughout the Psalms, we read that question. When the psalmists are suffering personally or when they see the pain of Israel or when they witness the prevalence of injustice, they cry out to God, “How long?”

And so do we. There are times when we wonder what God is doing or if he is still there. The Psalms show us it is OK to ask this question with a humble and trusting heart.

Jesus delays his return on the Last Day to give more time for the gospel to spread to people who are still dying in their sins and unbelief. “God is being patient. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This is called the “time for grace.”

Jesus’ delay is for the benefit of unbelievers, and he obviously needs capable followers to be his missionaries to spread the gospel. It’s easy to see why Jesus wants a middle-aged pastor to stick around for a while longer. “The pastor preaches to listeners,” and then an unbelieving listener may be converted. But why does he keep believers in this world when they have passed their missionary usefulness? Why does my friend lie in bed, waiting for death?

Because even in a bed, my friend has not passed his missionary usefulness. “The nurse cares for the cancer patient,” and then an unbelieving nurse may be converted. We’ll never know until heaven the ways my friend’s faith inspired other people during these days and months of his cancer.

From God’s vantage point, there is a vast network of factors that make tragedy fit into a larger pattern that brings about the saving of souls. It’s impossible for any human to know such things or have such a perspective. Instead of answering the reasons for each moment of suffering, the Bible invites us to honestly bring our pain and grief to God and to trust that he cares, realizing that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

King David wrote, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).