No Matter What...
Lately, there has been no shortage of pain and suffering in the news. Unfortunately, it’s becoming rather normal. Between the mass shootings, a killer hurricane and other random tragedies, people wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” Others mock those who seek to comfort the grieving with, “You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers.”
The problem of pain, suffering and evil placed alongside the concept of an all-powerful God—Who is purported to be just and loving—has been called “the rock of atheism.” Most who have formulated no belief, or have rejected their belief in God, carry the problem of pain, suffering and evil as an arrow (sometimes the only arrow) in their quiver of arguments against God.
It’s sad, but there have been so many shootings since the infamous Sandy Hook shooting that it has become a distant memory for many of us. After that terrible incident, a reporter from our local newspaper called me for a comment about what I might be saying concerning the disaster since it was in such close proximity to the final Sunday before Christmas. Some pastors had been doing sermons on gun control and other not-so-biblical topics since the shooting. I didn’t think it necessary to change my Christmas series message in light of the events in Connecticut. But her interview eventually got around to asking what I, as a member of the clergy, tell people who ask about God allowing such senseless acts, especially at Christmas.
My answer to her question was not unlike what I had heard some clerics share on television reports in response to the same question. One rabbi explained that as long as we have free will, there must be a choice between good and evil. A loving God must give us a choice and sadly, some, like the Sandy Hook shooter, choose evil. I agree with the rabbi and expressed that same thought to the reporter. I shared that if you live long enough and experience enough Christmases, you will experience some kind of loss or tragedy that you’ll forever associate with Christmas. It’s nothing new. But there is more to the answer, which I also shared with her.
I told her that one day Christ will return to put an end to all evil, pain and suffering. In the meantime, He offers us hope, love, peace and joy, despite the circumstances. Our job as clergy is to guide people toward godly choices. God never promised to shelter all people from the results of a fallen world or the acts of evil people. In fact, He promised, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But He promised that He had overcome the world and He gave us hope for the future.
Think of all that the biblical patriarchs went through as they carried the promises of God, passing them from generation to generation. Time and time again, they suffered loss, were bereft of their children and experienced unbelievable personal pain, yet they remained faithful. Just read through Hebrews 11 and see.
Many who triumphed through faith saw God do miraculous things, as when Jacob received his son, Joseph, back, as though from the dead. Rather than having lost faith in God, he saw Him as: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day” (Genesis 48:15).
So, I wonder how many more people either rejected their faith, or were bolstered in their false belief that there is no God, as a result of recent tragedies. How is it that some people, like one victim’s father, who gave a press conference after Sandy Hook, lean more heavily on their faith in the face of such loss? It’s the same reason that characters in the Bible like Job and Jacob’s son, Joseph, were able to bear up under circumstances that would have caused most to abandon any concept of a loving God. Among other things, they know that God is still on His throne no matter what happens and He “causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Is that you? Then you can live with the assurance that God hasn’t gone anywhere, even when it hurts.
“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” —Job 13:15