Today’s Thought: Why won’t God stop bad things from happening?
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, 14-15)
Pain and suffering affect us all at some point in our lives and for Christians, it oftentimes results in intense questioning of our faith. C.S. Lewis, author, Christian, and former atheist, processed his pain publicly in A Grief Observed following the loss of his wife to cancer: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Loss, especially unexplained loss like we saw this week in New Zealand, drives us to despair and to wonder… why?
Today, I find reminders of three things in the words of others: God does not cause our pain, God never abandons us, and God comforts us through the body of Christ on earth.
Charles Chaput, who has served as Archbishop of Denver and of Philadelphia, made this statement following the Sandy Hook shootings:
God is good, but we human beings are free, and being free, we help fashion the nature of our world with the choices we make…. We’re free, and therefore responsible for both the beauty and the suffering we help make. Why does God allow wickedness? He allows it because we—or others just like us—choose it. The only effective antidote to the wickedness around us is to live differently from this moment forward.
The natural question from this is, why were we given free will in the first place? And the answer is that only through free will are we able to experience true, loving relationships with God and others. What does it mean to hear “I love you” if there’s no other choice to be made? We have been given the freedom to love without restriction, but many of us choose it’s natural opposite—the freedom to exact pain on others. Some will make that choice, and times like those will leave devastation. During those times, though, we are not alone.
John records the words of Jesus, who commits himself to us: The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. (John 10:12-14)
So where does that leave us when tragedy strikes? Paul Yancey, author of Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, reminds us: We continually ask why things happen. What is God doing in the world? The answer is another question: What are God’s people doing? We are Christ’s body on earth, according to [the Apostle] Paul. When we extend mercy to the broken, we reach out with the hands of Christ himself.
“If the church does its job, people don’t torment themselves wondering where God is. They know the answer. God becomes visible through people who live out the mission that Paul expressed so well: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’” (Yancey, The Question That Never Goes Away)
Know this: Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lay down his life for us on the cross, enduring pain and suffering we can only imagine. God knows exactly how we feel when sorrow strikes. And, God has guaranteed that pain, suffering, and death will not have the last word.
Old Testament: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40:1, 11)
New Testament: Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)