~by Randy Bushey
O LORD, are you not from everlasting?… Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:12,13).
Most of us aren’t thinking of Christmas yet, but soon enough we’ll be reminded of seasonal traditions and reminders of years past.
And jarringly, the Christmas season coincides with anniversaries of recent and horrific events of spirit-crushing loss, numbing tragedy – and great evil:
December 26, 2004 – we awoke that Boxing Day to hear a word with which many of us were unfamiliar: tsunami. A lethal wave of water in the Indian Ocean – triggered by an underwater earthquake – for 7 hours devastated entire nations with an estimated US$10 billion of property damage.
More grievously – and more unfathomable – the lives of 280,000 were taken.
Theologians call this natural evil – when nature arbitrarily destroys what we value.
December 14, 2012 – a lone adult gunman walks into Sandy Hook Elementary, the school he attended as a child in Connecticut, and systematically killed 26 – most appallingly including 20 children aged 6 and 7.
This is moral evil – a perversely planned and intentionally executed act of human wickedness.
In both situations, God was blamed. How could a loving God allow such extreme, heart-wrenching, world-changing evil?
Was He impotent to stop it? Was His divine attention otherwise diverted? Is He really all-loving? Does He even care?
The legal and risk management professions call natural calamity an “act of God” meaning that nobody caused the carnage and therefore no one is liable at law.
Except God alone.
But, here’s another question, too often ignored in the aftermath: Why, in a world where He is otherwise ignored – or His existence angrily denied – is God to blame? Why should He intervene? Why should He even care?
Many posit that everything around us – even life itself – is the product of random genetic mutation and unguided natural selection. Therefore the argument concludes, God is rendered redundant.
And yet, at times of significant loss we have a naturally intuitive perception of His eternal, sovereign existence and consequently we turn to Him – often angrily screaming at the heavens – to call Him to account.
So I have to wonder why?
Is it because for many of us in the West, our consciences, rationale and ideology have been so shaped in some way by lasting remnants of a biblical worldview – even if such was embraced generations ago – that we demand to know why God did not intervene?
Or, are we acting instinctively – with something incongruous buried deep in our soul – demanding of Him an answer?
Paraphrasing Paul the Apostle in Romans 1: we may suppress the knowledge of God, but deep down we know Him – based on the evidence around us – to be true.
But somehow in our foggy thinking we’ve concluded: God does exist, but only to the extent necessary to perform His man-assigned job of eliminating things that cause us pain.
Here’s another WHY question I recently put to my neighbour:
Why were we born in this era of medical advances and in this place of historically unparalleled prosperity, education and the upholding of the rule of law?
What did we ever do to deserve that?
If we were living in another place, we wouldn’t be able to access affordable healthcare and education for our kids – 2 resources we often take for granted but that represent great value, products of abundant wealth.
Or another time. If we lived 250 years ago, roughly half of babies would make it past the age of 5. And then their average life-span would be only 30-40 years.
This then, is the flip-side of the why question.
Why you? Why me? Why here and now?
Those who trust God have always asked why questions.
The Old Testament Jewish prophet Habakkuk lived approximately 600 years before Christ.
And he was plagued by why questions.
Why does the Lord appear to tolerate injustice, violence, and oppression of the righteous?
Volumes have been written in response to that single question.
Takeaway: the biblical worldview holds that God does not waste suffering in the lives of His children. Physical, emotional, psychological aching in our lives always has redemptive value.
He uses it for His master purposes reverberating in ways, places and times unseen to us.
Martin Luther (16th century German Reformer): “Affliction is the best book in my library”.
And rather than simply being random, fortuitous events of a calamitous world, Christ-followers know with assurance that every single source of pain is known to our Heavenly Father, who loves us and allows suffering for purposes we will never fully understand until we are with Him.
Miroslav Volf (Croatian theologian, intellectual): “Those who observe suffering are tempted to reject God; those who experience it often cannot give up on God.”
That is why believers in every era have taken comfort in the eternal promise: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
– graphic by melodi2, freeimages.com