Monday, September 05, 2005

Wise Words About the Problem of Suffering

No, not from me. These words are from a friend, "Quiet Earthling." She shared this devotional at an inner city coffe house ministry. She should be a pastor.

The Problem of Suffering

I am sure most of us have been following the news from New Orleans and the devastation that hurricane Katrina brought. It's scary to see a beautiful, popular city with rich culture and history go to a 3rd world country level overnight. It makes us realize very clearly how fragile life is.

When September 11 hit, my husband was back in NY. In a space of two hours, everyone knew that things would never be the same. Things we relied on and trusted were forever exposed to be fragile and uncertain.

So here's a really old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or maybe let me rephrase that, why do bad things happen to normal, ordinary people?

People have different ideas regarding that.

Some people say that bad things happen because God wants to punish human sin. And certainly, it's God's prerogative to do that, if He so chooses. But Jesus discouraged this kind of thinking. When people brought him to a man who was blind from birth, they started asking Jesus, "hey, what's going on here? Who sinned? Was it him, or his parents?" Jesus said, "Not the man, and not the parents, but let the works of God be made manifest in this man!" In other words, Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do." (The Message)

Some people will say that God wants to teach us a lesson and he uses natural disasters to do that. While God can certainly teach us lessons through things that happen to us, I can't see what lesson all of us could learn from this - other than that it really sucks to be hit by a hurricane. Once again, Jesus never actually tried telling people who were sick or injured that He was trying to teach them a lesson through their adversities. He simply helped them.

Some people can say that God has bad things happen to us in order to build our character, and this certainly sounds reasonable, because we can develop better character in adversity. But what about people who actually died in New Orleans? How did it help build THEIR character? What about infants who are hungry and thirsty, and injured? Is it helping build THEIR character? How? Once again, Jesus never sit down with the lepers and blind people to tell them that God was trying to build their character through their problems. He simply reached out and helped them.

How many people here remember the book of Job? Job was a very wealthy man, he lived a good life and had everything. One day, something bad happenned to him. His entire family was killed. All of his possessions were destroyed or taken away. And then he himself got really sick. His friends came to comfort him, and they tried telling him the same things we often hear: "We are sure you did something bad, and God is trying to punish you - and it's too bad for you that you don't know what it is; or "God's trying to teach you something here", or "Maybe you should just not say anything, Job...") You can imagine that none of those things were very helpful to him. Finally, God spoke to Job ... but his answer was not what they expected. Instead of talking about building Job's character, or punishing Job's sin, God spoke about the complexities of the universe. He spoke about animals getting food, and eagles, and sea creatures, and snow, and oceans, and all of it working together. It's like he was saying, "Look, the universe is a very complex place. It's a place that you'll never understand completely. There may not be a simple cause-effect thing here, there may be complex reasons beyond your comprehension at this point." And if we think about it for a minute, knowing WHY may not always help us in our situation. Jesus certainly didn't sit down with the people who were sick and injured (and probably asking "why") to explain to them why certain things happenned to them, and the complex causes and forces behind the events in their lives. He sipmly reached out and helped them.

And I think this is how we are called to respond, too.

I remember that once I shared with a friend (iswari ) that I had trouble with something because I couldn't figure out God's purpose in this. She said that she never tried looking for God's purpose in a time of trouble - just his presense. This made a lot of sense to me.

When we see bad things (like Katrina) happenning, we can't really figure out why. Sure we can think of the different things that could have been in place to make the damage less (better evacuation procedures, better town levee, and so on) - but ultimatley we don't know WHY it happenned. We don't know why that tropical storm became a hurricane and headed for New Orleans. But just because we don't know why, doesn't mean shouldn't do what Jesus did, reach out and help out. Now, many of us don't have a lot of money do be donating to Red Cross right now. And most of us can't just take off and go down there to volunteer. But this doesn't mean we can't still do something in this situation. And one thing we can certainly do, is be good to each other and help make this little part of the world a better place, right here, and right now. And even if it doesn't help the people in New Orleans directly, it does make the world as a whole a better place. And indirectly, the good things that we do here will spill over to the rest of the world, because everything and everyone in the world are connected.

Finally, what do we do when bad things happen to us? Sometimes asking "why" is useful. Certainly we need to take responsibility for our own situation, and the choices we've made. But eventually, there comes a time where we should give up the "why" question, and simply say, "Okay, this is how things are now. What steps can I take to make things better for myself?"

One place to go would be good friends who won't keep trying to tell us that we must have done something wrong, and we are being punished, or that we should learn some kind of lesson from this - but nobody quite knows what that lesson might be. But it's good to go to a place where our friends will simply listen to us, give good practical advice on how to change our situation around, and how to get help.

Finally, we can go to God with our troubles. And because God did experience human existence when he walked the earth in flesh, in the person of Jesus, he KNOWS first-hand what it's like to live in a place that is dangerous and harsh. He knows how fragile and uncertain and unfair life can be. And because He knows, he can be there for us like nobody else can.

The book of Hebrews says, "

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." or in other words:

14Now that we know what we have--Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God--let's not let it slip through our fingers. 15We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all--all but the sin. 16So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)


tali said...

very interesting. have you read the "problem of pain" yet? you probably read it years ago, and i'm just showing off my youth & ignorance, but bear with me, i'm new to this whole emergent christianity thing.

good blog.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

No, I haven't. Is it by Greg Boyd? Hey, I'm new to the whole emergent Christianity thing too. Look at my picture. LOL!

Thanks for commenting. It is nice to know someone's reading!

So, I should read that book, eh?

tali said...

absolutely. it's by cs lewis - thesame guy who wrote mere christianity and the scerwtape letters.