The following is written by Walt Rice of the Trinity Lutheran Church:
During the past few months the Plateau has seen far too many horrific accidents and witnessed too many tragedies. Some have been high profile. At the same time it is certain that there are many others which have flown under the public’s radar, yet have been just as painful and devastating for the individuals and families involved.
Tragedies bring forth theological questions. Why would an almighty God allow such pain to strike certain people while others live their lives in quiet comfort? If God is all powerful, why would the deity allow unspeakable evil and pain to occur; couldn’t God prevent it? And when terrible events unfold in our own lives the more personal question is, “Why is God doing this to me?”
Often, such questions go unanswered simply because there is no good answer. At other times we take a stab at finding some rationale to explain away that which appears to be God’s injustice and apparent capriciousness. The possible responses range from “God is not in control” to the pronouncement “this horrid event is God’s plan and will.”
Does our experience of loss and pain mean God is testing us to see how much our faith can endure? Is God punishing us for some transgression? In the instances of death do we assume “God wanted one more angel in heaven?”
The question of the existence of evil has plagued the church throughout its history. It is quite often one of the first theological questions a child puts forth: “Mommy, why did God do that?” It is the painful puzzle which haunts us well into our senior years as we contemplate the finality of our lives. In all cases a satisfactory explanation is hard to find.
These queries operate with the assumption that God is the cosmic puppeteer who pulls our strings. When we hurt, God is the one who is responsible. When an earthquake decimates Nepal or a tsunami washes away countless lives in Indonesia, it is “an act of God.” When the doctor explains the cancer is terminal, or when a hit-and-run driver steals a life before its time, God must be either punishing or testing.
I would like to put forth an alternative perception for those times when we stare into the face of evil and pain; one that comes from the very heart of the Christian gospel.
The God we know is the God made flesh. In Jesus we have a glimpse at the very heart of God, for in his own words, “The Father and I are one.” The center of our faith comes at a cross. At the cross Jesus is revealed not in power, but in weakness; nails pierce his hands and feet, the crowd mocks him in his agony, he suffers alone and abandoned. And it is from the cross that Jesus shouts out the question which plagues us all, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I would suggest that amidst our worst moments of terror and pain, it is more helpful to recognize the God who enters into our suffering, rather than the God who pulls our strings; it is better to look up to the cross than to assume we can gaze down from heaven. For if we truly want to understand the depths of God’s love, we have only to look to the one who hangs in weakness, humiliation and death.
The questions which are so deep they can’t be verbalized take on a whole different meaning within the context of the crucified God.
When we hurt, God is there with us, embracing us even in helplessness and alienation. When unspeakable evil or unfathomable tragedy blindsides us, our God has not abandoned us, but cries with us as we shed our tears. And it is only in the one of the cross, the one who greeted Easter morning with light and life, that we dare to hope. Jesus entered into our pain on Calvary and he does so with each calamity, disaster or loss.
I am convinced that while we walk on this side of eternity we will never be able to adequately answer the question “Why?” Yet in faith, over and against the model of a God who subjects humanity to disaster and sorrow, I place my hope and faith in the God made visible, the one who hung in death, the one who always remains by my side.