Suffering & the Question: Why?
Over the current Lent season, our church has been wrestling with the reality of suffering through a study of Job. One of the central tensions of Job, and in much of the suffering we all face, is the question “why?” Why do we suffer? Why, if God is good, just, and all-powerful, does He allow evil and injustice to befall us?
Do we deserve the suffering as a result of our failure and sin? Is the suffering the result of God Himself being unjust? Is God a pernicious, fickle, uncaring, and calloused tyrant unconcerned with the plight of humanity? Is God powerless to intervene? The resounding answer to all those questions in the Book of Job is “no.”
So what, then, is the answer to the question, “why?” Well, the Book of Job has no answers. In fact, after all the suffering Job experiences and all the wrestling he does with his friends and with God, the story ends with him never knowing why he suffered. That is not to say we are not given insights throughout the narrative, namely, though God allows the suffering, it does not come by His hand but by Satan. Plus, at the end of the book, we see that God reveals Himself as the all-powerful One whose plans cannot be thwarted, whose purposes are too wonderful to comprehend, and whose wisdom is infinite and eternal. And for the Christian, our hope rests in the fact that He is not just the all-powerful and transcendent One, but that He is also Yahweh, a covenant-making, covenant-keeping, intimately near God.
While, for the Christian, these truths bring measures of comfort when senseless and seemingly meaningless suffering comes, they nonetheless do not answer the question. Why does God allow suffering to continue? Why does God allow evil and injustice to pervade? Why, if God is good, just, and all-powerful, does He not intervene? Our hearts ache for answers to these questions. And today, our hearts again ache for answers.
Like many around the nation and world, we were heartbroken, angered, and devastated by the news of yet another mass shooting in Nashville. The immeasurable wickedness of the human heart, the stalemate caused by our ideological commitments, and the continued lack of political resolve for meaningful change have all again collided with devastating effects.
We grieve the loss of the vulnerable young children––Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney––as well as the three adults killed, Cynthia Peak, Katherine Koonce, and Mike Hill. Additionally, though the circumstances are heart-wrenching on their own, this shooting took place in the school of a church within the same denomination we serve. One of the victims, Hallie Scruggs, was the daughter of the pastor of that church. We have many friends and colleagues directly impacted by this shooting, which all the more emphasizes our grief.
There is much to say about how and why we all must again grieve what has become an all too familiar scene. And as the news coverage and social media dialogue unfold, it is clear the culture wars are in full effect. For this, we, too, lament.
As we ache for answers from God concerning why, we stand with the grieving, many of whom we know trust the goodness of Yahweh amid the pain. We pray for those impacted by this violence; we lament the sinful brokenness of both the human heart and our systems and structures; we cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
And while we do not know the ultimate answer to the question, “why?” May we not allow that reality to pacify us to the point that we do not admit what we can do but refuse to do to curb the pervasiveness of such violence. We pray, we grieve, and we lament, but Lord, forgive us for blaspheming your name when we spiritualize our response to such violence and refuse the necessary action to curb such violence.
As our friend Christina Edmondson recently tweeted, “Please remember the victims of mass shootings families and their friends in both your prayers and actions. Without action, our prayers are faithless and insulting. Cruel and dishonoring. We mock God and victims when we use the notion of prayer to avoid good works.”
To that, we say, yes and amen.
-Justin & Abe