Sometimes you have to stop and throw your hands up. In a moment I want to make some comments about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but first I want to scream at the screen “WHY?” Not “WHY?” about the earthquake, tsunami, suffering and death but about this news story:
British bureaucracy has prevented a team of rescue experts from helping out. I hope we are proud.
OK, rant over.
So what are we to make of what has happened? Well the first thing to say is that if it does not drive us to our knees in lament and intercession there is something seriously wrong. One of the things that evangelicals seem to have lost in our search for certainty is the ability to lament to God and tell him exactly how we feel. He is big enough to take our questions, our doubts, our anger and all the rest of the things churning around within us in the face of such devastation. Have you told him?
The second is to point out that God is not immune from suffering either. He experienced devastating emotional pain when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in the face of his impending separation from his eternal relationship with his Father. God experienced bereavement when Jesus cried out “It is finished!” and died. And God is not remote and watching us from a distance. He loves every single person on this planet.
So how could he allow this to happen? Surely if he loved those people in Japan he would have saved them? This is taking us into the deep and dark language of theodicy – how come a benevolent omnipotent God allows evil things to happen? I believe that in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster these questions need to be articulated honestly but not necessarily answered. Short answers can seem trite and unsatisfactory and longer answers are irrelevant when prayers need praying and action needs taking.
This does not mean that there are no answers. There are clues towards them in Jesus’ death and resurrection (hope in the face of death); in the good that rises in the face of evil (such as the intention of the rescue team in the story above); in the way that the world has to be to allow free will and the possibility of human rebellion; in the sin of people that leads to disastrous decisions (building a slum in an area prone to landslides because it is the only cheap land around); in evil as a cosmic force not just a personal problem…
There are no easy answers, which is why it is often called a ‘mystery’.
The nature of God as seen in Jesus in the face of suffering leads me back to him rather than to answers. When crowds of suffering people came to him, Jesus ‘had compassion’ on them. In Greek the word is ‘splanchizomai’. It describes a physical gut-level response. Jesus was affected by human suffering. He still is. God is far from indifferent to human suffering. He does not have an easy answer to the problem either.