This morning I was reading and re-reading through all the articles that detailed the massacre shooting up in Connecticut. Like most of us, I was trying to make sense of what happened and simultaneously feeling the burden for those who lost loved ones. All this, while hugging my own children a little longer and a little tighter than usual.
As a Christian pastor, when senseless tragedy occurs, I will receive a question that goes something like this: How could God have allowed this evil to occur? or Where was God in all this? A difficult question to be sure. The answer that Scripture gives does not fully answer that difficult question (no religion or philosophy can!) but I believe it does get us closest to where we truly want to go. Let me also point out that when a person is in the midst of a tragic situation that even the Christian response can amount to ‘cold comfort’ but I am convinced it is still the answer that we all need. Even if it means putting the answer on a shelf for now and coming back and examining it later. But here is what I believe Scripture teaches…
If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world – then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue. What you can’t have is you can’t have it both ways. CS Lewis in his book Mere Christianity described how he had originally rejected the idea of God because of the cruelty of life. But then he came to realize that evil was even more problematic for his lack of belief in God. This is what he wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust” to begin with? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for my argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust – not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…consequently the arguments against atheism turns out to be too simple…not too complex.
Lewis is right. But let’s assume for the moment that the skeptic is right. There is no God and that’s why this evil occurred. Ask yourself this: Why should we say any tragic event is unjust to begin with? Without God all that is left is nature and natural selection. The western secular worldview says the natural world is nothing more than a set of organisms that all got where they are by eating one another (i.e. Darwin’s Theory: survival of the fittest).
Dostoevsky once wrote: “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted”…Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. Apart from God, he’s right. Evil and Suffering is actually a bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God than for those that do.
This is why Scripture teaches that when tragedy strikes don’t abandon God. But instead press in. Allow your sufferings to strengthen your faith. Getting rid of your belief in God in order to try and get a handle on evil and suffering won’t help.
But again, when one is in the midst of a tragedy, like what the parents and community are experiencing up in Connecticut, to reduce the question of evil and suffering to something merely philosophical it may come off as sounding cold and irrelevant (i.e. cold comfort).
Of course this is where being a Christian is so incredibly comforting. John Stott put it this way: What other kind of God do you want? What other God could you possibly believe in? Stott answers his own question. He writes, I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In a world of pain, how could you worship a God who is immune to it? Ironically it is at the Cross where God seemed the most absent. Jesus cried out: My God My God why have you forsaken me? And yet it is at the Cross where God is the most active doing the ultimate good.
This Christmas season let us remember that for whatever reason suffering occurs the answer cannot be: because God doesn’t love us. He loves us so much He sacrificed His own Son in order to have us. This is why Christ came in flesh and this is why He died and was resurrected from the dead.