December 15, 2012
Someone once said that in any community you can name there is enough suffering going on to “freeze the blood”. Suffering, after all, is an all-purpose word that covers everything from toothaches to the Holocaust. When the sum total of all forms of suffering are considered, it is too much to contemplate. Most of the time, for the sake of our own psychic survival, we manage to keep the sheer magnitude of the suffering around us out of mind. Most of us, for example, do not walk around fixated on the fact that more people die in a single day in Africa from starvation and Aids than all the casualties on 9-11.
But every so often the questions of suffering and evil, which always lie close at hand, are forced upon all of us in a way we cannot ignore. 9-11 forced the question upon us as Islamic terrorists unleashed their hatred. Most recently we have been confronted with the slaughter of innocent school children together with some of the adults who worked with them. As the story unfolded we learned that the young man responsible had also taken the life of his mother. When it was over he had also taken his own life.
In a world of interrelated suffering and where global communication makes us all participants, how are we to speak of God’s involvement in this interrelated web of suffering? Why doesn’t God do something? And if intervention is not going to be His way, then why not just obliterate the entire planet and put us all out of our misery? These are questions being discussed this morning, world-wide, as I sit here writing.
These questions of human suffering and evil will accompany us to our last day. At the same time our Christian faith does not leave us completely in the dark where the ‘why’ question regarding God is concerned. We do not receive iron clad answers, but we do receive the material with which we may profitably struggle with the question, for struggle with it we must.
The Book of Genesis tells of the flood which destroyed a sinful humanity. When it was over, God made a promise that He would never take such action again. In other words, God imposed upon Himself a restraint, a limit. No matter how evil humanity was, God’s way with the world would not be to overpower it with force. The innocent suffering and death of Jesus are the clearest expression of God’s intent to enter into and participate in the suffering of the world. This way of facing suffering and evil, the Bible tells us, has broken the power of evil, anticipating the end of suffering. Still, human freedom will be misused and abused and certain kinds of suffering will be the result.
The ‘Why’ questions that come out of such suffering do not all run in the direction of God. Asking ‘why’ can also serve to mobilize human efforts to address the conditions and circumstances that resulted in such terrible suffering and death. For there are many instances of suffering that have little mystery attached to them. The causes may be discerned and solutions reached. This latest episode will undoubtedly cause us to examine many issues: school safety, the responsible care and use of firearms, being alert to those who exhibit the symptoms of anti-social, destructive behavior, and so forth.
There is also the question of what we do with suffering. How do we handle it? Do we simply shake our fist at the heavens, lamenting in grief and bitterness? There is a place for that, no doubt. At the same time, suffering can take us outside of ourselves and into the suffering of others. Suffering can make us more aware of the fragile, vulnerable character of life and motivate us to stand with others in their suffering while seeking ways to alleviate it.
There are no risk-free zones in this life. Suffering can, and will be a companion. As we ask the tough questions of God and of ourselves it may be helpful to look again at the Cross and the man there who also cried out, ‘Why?’ For there we see not only a fragile man who walked in faith with God, we also see a fragile God, who walks in faith with men and women and who, in the deepest sense, knows and participates in our suffering.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Thank you, Pastor Mark.
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