Sunday morning, we all awoke to the news that a passenger jet crashed, killing more than forty people. We couldn’t help asking, “Why?”
In spite of the pattern of tragedy and sadness we see in the world each day, illnesses, hurricanes, earthquakes, marital breakups, youthful rebellion, crime, crooked politics, job losses, mass starvation, genocide, abuse, wars, and a whole host of other tragedies throw us off. They make us talk about "getting back to normal," as though "normal" was a life in which things like these don’t happen.
But in fact, sadness and tragedy seem to be the normal state of things in our world. So, it is curious that we find sadness and tragedy so offensive and hurtful. Shouldn't we be used to them?
No, I don't think that we should be used to them!
I believe that deeply imbedded in our collective DNA is the memory of a time when tragedy and sadness weren't part of the human experience. We weren't meant to live under their shadows. Somehow, we know that life is meant to be good. And so, we're right to be offended when tragedy strikes. In an ultimate sense, tragedy really is unnatural.
Let me explain. The opening chapters of the Old Testament book of Genesis contain two different accounts of the creation of the universe by God. However you interpret those chapters, a few facts emerge:
1. God is good. It's in the nature of God to give. After all, God gave the gift of life to everything from the frilled lizard to human beings. Creation is a voluntary act of giving on God's part. To be alive is to be the beneficiary of undeserved love, what the Bible calls, “grace.”
2. God's creation is good. In the first Genesis account of creation, in chapter 1, God repatedly says that what He creates is good. And when God fashions human beings, He looks at them and everything else He's created and declares them all, "very good!"
Given what we learn about God and life from Genesis, no one who asks, "Why?" when a loved one dies or a plane crashes should feel ashamed. This isn’t how our good God intended our good life to be for us.
And even God is offended by the tragedies that befall us. Want proof?
When God came to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a friend named Lazarus died. Four days later, Jesus arrived in Lazarus’ hometown and found Lazarus’ sisters and friends grieving inconsolably. That’s understandable. But what’s incredible is that Jesus, Who knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, that He Himself would soon rise from death on the first Easter Sunday, and that He would offer eternity to all who turn from sin and follow Him, also mourned over Lazarus. Jesus wept.
God hates it when we suffer.
In coming columns, I want to more fully explore the Christian response to the tragedies of life. But the first thing to understand is this: Our reaction to suffering is understandable. God didn’t make us to suffer tragedy. No wonder we ask, “Why?”
[This is the latest of my columns for the Community Press newspapers in suburban Cincinnati. It's an adaptation of a post written for a series that earlier appeared on this blog. You can find the narrative of Jesus' response to Lazarus' death here.]