With non-stop news coverage of the horrific massacre of children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, what is there to add? Words are inadequate. I could give my opinion on gun control laws, cops in schools, mental illness, video game violence or a myriad of other societal ills. There will be plenty of those discussions this week on the airwaves, over the internet and around water coolers. Words are inadequate.
As a pastor and a police chaplain for many decades, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question—the WHY question—in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like spiritual leaders of any sort, I scramble to try to say something in response and I always come away feeling inadequate. It will not be any different this time. But we can’t shrink from the task of responding to that question.
It seems to me, the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we’ve lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face the “why” question. We need the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss.
First, we must recognize the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. The problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for those who believe in God and for those who don’t—or for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. Okay, then what will?
Every faith offers resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian pastor I know my own faith’s resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are usually two answers. One answer is: “Don’t question God! He has reasons beyond my finite little mind. Just accept everything. Don’t question.” The other answer is: “I don’t know what God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all.” Neither answer is fully adequate.
Tim Keller, pastor and author wrote these words on Facebook this weekend: “One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that He interprets any move against them as a move against Him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says God goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.” I completely agree.
Another pastor, John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you catch what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.
QUESTION: What gives you hope in the face of evil and injustice? Share your comments below.