A young child is stricken with a rare form of cancer and dies.
A vibrant middle-aged man runs off the road and strikes a light pole and never recovers from his injuries.
A young mother begins to feel weak and over time she finds she develops Parkinson’s Disease and eventually succumbs.
Tragedy after tragedy…
How do we explain God in the midst of all this tragedy?
One of the main challenges to a Christian’s faith has always been understanding where God is when bad things happen. Many years ago, I read the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. Rabbi Kushner wrestled with these very questions. A few years after Kushner’s book appeared, Warren Wiersbe wrote Why Us? When Bad Things Happen to God’s People, a protestant’s spin on the same perennial questions. Phillip Yancey makes an effort to provide helpful answers to tragedy and the existence of God in his book Where is God When it Hurts?
But are there any good answers?
Pastor Hamilton tries to address this faith-killing dilemma in his chapter entitled “Where is God When Bad Things Happen?”
My first thought goes to Job, you know the prosperous and blameless man who had the misfortune of becoming the object of a wager between God and Satan. The book of Job tells the story of a man who suffered the most chilling loss that any man could face. In a matter of hours, he lost all his earthly, monetary possessions and all ten of his children. Talk about tragedy.
After this massive loss, Job’s friends come around to console him. They don’t do a great job. One says that God would not inflict such tragedy on a man; it must be something that Job did. Another says the suffering is harsh but in the long run Job will be better for it in the end. The third friend says it is all a mystery; one day it will all make sense.
Think about your own efforts to explain where God is in the midst of a tragedy that happens to a friend who is going through a hard time. Can you come up with the “proper” words? Can you make an effort to help make the pain go away? Do you feel you make things worse instead of better?
God does not explain to Job His role in this saga and the poor advice by his friends only causes Job to doubt his faith.
What happens in the end? Job does not turn his back on God and he is restored. His health returns, his wealth is greater than ever and he even gets a new family with new sons and daughters. He lives to a ripe old age.
Job does not get answers to why this tragedy occurred. He just clings to his faith and he is rewarded.
The second place I think of in my Bible is the book of James. James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
When I am not in the midst of tragedy, this sounds like brave scripture, basically saying “suck it up” because hard times will produce maturity in a person. I can see that. However in the midst of tragedy, these words may sound a bit harsh. In the midst of tragedy we feel the pain, the sting of it all. Telling us to find “joy” in hard times is a steep climb for ordinary humans.
Truly difficult times can make or break a Christian. Many a believer has turned away from God in tough times. What do we say when someone asks “How could God allow this to happen?” How do we reply when someone confronts us with “Why doesn’t God put a stop to this suffering?” How do we comfort when someone asks “How can God allow me to have so much pain?”
Pastor Hamilton calls this “theodicy”—“the problem of reconciling the goodness of God with the evil that happens in this world” [Hamilton, 121].
Pastors are confronted with these questions frequently as they find themselves trying to pastor grieving church members. But what about you? Do you have this all sorted out? Can you hang on to your faith in time of trouble. When suffering comes, can you confront the suffering with joy?
The reason Pastor Hamilton includes this chapter in his book is that we need answers to this question because if hard times are not here, they just left or they are about to come. Belief in Jesus does not make the Christian immune from tragedy.
We all know that…but where is God?