In the face of tragedy, the first question people often ask is "Why does God allow pain and suffering?"
As Jen Hatmaker writes, "Suffering transcends all class, race, ethnicity, culture, privilege. The wealthiest, most successful man on earth could lose his only daughter in a car wreck this afternoon. There is no corner untouched by grief, no demographic, no alliance. If you haven't suffered, just live longer. With anything so viscerally devastating, the Christian community has long tried to explain it ... what we have always wanted to know when tragedy strikes is WHY."
Hatmaker goes on: "To this end, the church has a history of formulizing suffering, giving it tidy origins and endings and whitewashing the horrid, debilitating middle. We've assessed the complicated nuances of universal sorrow and assigned it categories, roots, principles. Or in the face of uncertain causes, we recite some of the coldest, inhumane theology: 'God is sovereign. Deal with it.' In an attempt to understand the ordinary grief of human life, I fear we've reduced a complicated reality to an unmanageable burden; we've put a yoke of despair on people who mourn, assigning accolades to those who 'suffer well' and, in ways overt and subtle, urging our brokenhearted to buck up. Then adding insult to injury, we fall into the trap of explaining suffering, as if any one of us could possibly understand its eternal scope."
She lists several things we do know about suffering from Scripture: sometimes people suffer because of self-inflicted misery; sometimes people suffer at the sin of others; sometimes people suffer through no human fault at all; sometimes people suffer because people get sick and die; sometimes people suffer because we live on a physical earth involving tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis; sometimes people suffer because we have an enemy whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy.
"The point is," Hatmaker says, "there is no formula for suffering. There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation. ... Though it is human nature to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that so much of life is a mystery, as is the way God moves and redeems. How can we possibly fathom it all? We don't always get the answer to WHY this side of heaven, so we need to stop talking about spiritual mysteries as if we are in possession of all understanding."
But, Hatmaker writes, as we suffer, as we hold onto one another through the dark night waiting for the sun to rise again, there are some things we can cling to:
- God is impossibly loving. He loves us. He loves our families. He loves creation.
- God restores things; all of history points to a God who makes sad things right.
- God doesn't tempt, abuse, endorse wickedness, abandon, or hate.
- In our darkest moment, when we are crushed, Jesus is as close as our own breath.
- He has given us to one another as agents of love and grace and safety.
- He told us 100s of times to comfort each other, making sure we are cared for.
- Jesus wept over death and grief; shed your tears, friend. We have a Savior who cries.
- It is not the Body's responsibility to explain why. We are family. We circle the wagons. We make casseroles. We weep with those who weep.
"We may not get a why, but we know the how: together," Hatmaker concludes. "Jesus is so good and He loves you. The sun will rise with healing in its wings, but until it does, may we all learn to be a soft place to fall, cushioning the blow of suffering until Jesus turns it all into glory."
The question of suffering is one that will always be asked, and one that countless Christian leaders, authors, writers and individuals will always attempt to tackle in the face of tragedy. What about you? What do you cling to in the midst of overwhelming pain? How do you answer the question of "Why?"
For further reading and different perspectives on this topic, check out the following articles from Crosswalk.com:
- When You're in Your Darkest Hour
- Embracing the Night
- How Could God Let This Happen?
- The Answer is Evil
- What to Say When There's Nothing to Say
- How to Have a Steadfast Hope in a Shaky World
- This Wasn't Supposed to Happen: Realizing There's a Reason for Your Pain
- How to Help Your Children When Tragedy Strikes
- Making Sense of Natural Disasters
- God Has a Wonderful Plan for My Life?
- Treasures in the Wilderness of Suffering
- Does God Know When You're Hanging on by a Thread?
- When a Christian Suffers
- Why Do Bad Things Happen to God's People?
Anna Kuta is the editor of ReligionToday.com.
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