Monday, November 08, 2004

When Tragedy Hits the Innocent: Part 4

She was sixty years old and she was dying of cancer. It had been a long fight with early victories, disappointing setbacks, and now, the end was clearly near.

"Are you angry with God?" I asked her.

"I was at first," she answered honestly. "But then I remembered that He's right here with me. Somehow that helped me."

In the first three installments of this series, I've dealt with the question of why people are subjected to seemingly undeserved suffering. Sadly, suffering happens all the time. Just as it did to the sixty year old woman I visited in the hospital. Just as it happens countless times each day---from hospital oncology wards in every city in America to the streets of Fallujah where, as I write this, a fierce battle is raging. In our world, the innocent do suffer.

Given that reality, "Why?...Why do the innocent suffer?" may not be the right question for us to ask. One of my seminary professors, the systematician Donald Luck, used to say that one question that might more profitably be asked in response to those who ask, "Why?" is, "Why not?"

Why would suffering surprise us?

Why, given what we can observed each day, would we assume that anybody is exempt from suffering?

On this side of heaven, we won't really know why God allows the innocent to suffer. But we can know how to suffer, how to fight our suffering and the suffering of others, how to live and go on in a world where tragedy happens.

We can cope by leaning on the God Who suffers with us. Through Jesus Christ, God knows exactly what it's like to suffer undeservedly.

Seven centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He was described by the prophet Isaiah:

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. [Isaiah 53:3-6]
The New Testament book of Philippians, written by the first century evangelist and preacher Paul, quotes what some Biblical scholars think is an early hymn of the Church:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5-11]
Through Jesus, God has linked with every aspect of our experience, including our suffering.

Jesus is the very embodiment of the word compassion, a compound word that literally means to suffer with. Through Jesus, God suffers with us and thereby makes our suffering more bearable.

And He doesn't cut and run when the going gets tough. He promises to be with us always.

He also gives us a family called the Church, people who will rejoice with us and cry with us, pray with us and hope with us, sing with us and be silent with us. This is so important!

More than that, the people who surrender themselves to Christ live and die in the knowledge that God gives life beyond our suffering. He gives everlasting life to those with faith in Him. It makes this life and all that can go wrong bearable. It gives this life meaning and purpose!

Karl Marx, the co-creator of Communist theory, used to taunt believers. He called religion the opiate of the people. It can be. But not for a real-life believer in Jesus Christ!

One of the contemporary heroes of Christian faith is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The South African cleric stood against the evil system of apartheid in his country. Each day brought death threats to his mailbox.

Why do you do it?, people would ask Tutu. I can't help it, he would say. I can't help speaking out against injustice. Besides, he said, death isn't the worst thing that can happen to a Christian!

Knowing that they are forever in the hands of Jesus gives a person a courage and a tenacity for living they wouldn't otherwise have. It doesn't make suffering easier. But it does help the follower of Christ to know that...

they don't suffer alone

they have life beyond the suffering

they, like their Savior, can suffer with others

they have the family of the Church to uphold, encourage, and share hope with them

they know that God will never walk away!

There's a passage of Scripture I've told my wife must be read at my funeral. If it isn't, I'm popping out of the box and reading it myself:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:31-39]
I pray God that He will help me to remember that come what may.

1 comment:

Mark Sides said...

Pastor Daniels,

What Bible version did you take that Romans 8 passage from? I can't find that version of the passage in any of the ones I am familiar with.

Mark S.