Evil, Tragedy and God


It’s back again.  The “it” I am talking about is the tragedy and suffering question—why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?  The tragedy of December 14, 2012 will live in all of us for quite a while because it questioned both God’s love and His power.

So, from my daily devotional writer, Jim Denison, I want to use his thoughts and my experience to help all of us with this issue of the “evil, tragedy and God.”  Let’s break it down into “bite-size” pieces. 

Foundational to all that we will say, please realize that the “why” question is not one the Bible shies away from as we see in the life of Habakkuk.  He complained to God about the devastation of his people at the hands of the Babylonians:  “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.  Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?  Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”  (Habbakuk 1: 3)  Jesus even cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27: 46).        

We who follow Christ are especially susceptible to this issue because we believe three seemingly contradictory facts to be equally true:

·      God is all-loving.

·      God is all-powerful.

·      Evil exists.

And for people who deny God, the easiest way to do this is to minimize one of these three conditions.        

First, regarding the love of God, many today view life as random coincidence and that if there is a “God” he has little interest in us.  He is a clockmaker, watching his creation wind down.        

Second, regarding the power of God, it is popular to see God and Satan, good and evil locked in a battle for supremacy.  Very popular a few years ago, the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People agrees that even God is not able to do everything he wants to do.        

Third, regarding the existence of evil, the worldviews are all over the map.  Hindu tradition views evil as an illusion.  Ancient Greeks saw evil as the product of the material world to be escaped through ascetic discipline or philosophical reflection.  The Buddhist treats evil as the product of wrong desires.  Hinduism likewise believes that suffering results from wrong choices.        

But as you might expect, none of these satisfy the deepest part of us.  Christians, sensing more, have wrestled throughout the history of our faith and have developed five basic approaches to the question of suffering and evil:

The spiritual warfare model … identifies that Satan is real and much of the pain and suffering in our world is attributable to his malignant work.  However, not all suffering is a direct result of Satan’s plan.  Our ability to make choices and counter what Satan is doing will in fact bring some level of pain and suffering.

The free-will model … is usually based on the following assumptions:  God created everything and he created it good.  Before the fall, evil was present but not yet reality, at least from our ability to choose it for ourselves.  God then created humans with freedom of will and we have used this freedom to bring evil into existence, which absolves God of the blame.

The soul-building model … believes that God can redeem any suffering and pain for God’s glory and our good.  The weakness of this view revolves around the existence of Hell, since it is not a soul-building or redemptive reality. 

The eschatological (big word meaning “future”) model … asserts that evil will be resolved in the future, making present suffering endurable and worthwhile.  This view does not solve how the promise of future hope makes present courage possible.

The existential model . . . is more practical than theoretical.  It says that God suffers as we suffer and gives us strength to withstand and even redeem our pain.  But it offers no real explanation for the origin or existence of suffering.

So, how can we “apply” all this information to our world of suffering? 

First, utilize the “free-will” approach to examine the origin of suffering.  Is there sin involved?  Is this pain due to the result of misused freedom?  Do a spiritual inventory but do not assume that suffering is always your fault.

Second, use the “soul-building” approach to ask—what can I learn from this situation?  Strive to be open to every source of spiritual source.  Stay close enough to Jesus so that you can hear his voice and feel his touch.

Third, use the “future hope” approach to ask—how can God redeem this present suffering for future good?  We may not be able to see the future, but we can believe that is real and that God is IN it working for our good.

Finally, utilize the “existential” approach to trust God’s help in the midst of our pain.  Nothing can take you from his hand (John 10:28).      

So, look at our world with a tear in your eye, knowing that God is still God and then go and live like you believe it.  Someone will notice!

A Christmas Watch: “The Way”

imageChristmas, besides being one of the “holiest” times of the year, is also a time for food, family and fun.  Movies are planned to premier at this time of year recognizing the relaxed schedule.  If you go to a movie, you must see “Lincoln.”  I will write about it in another article, but outside of some language, you will be thrilled and inspired by Steven Spielberg’s view of our 16th president. 

However, if you want to stay home and avoid the crowds, here is my suggestion.  Rent the film, The Way.  As preparation, allow me to offer a historical overview.

The Camino De Santiago is a 500-mile footpath that begins in France and ends near Spain’s northwestern corner.  Since the 9th century, when pilgrims first began walking it on their way to view the relics of the Apostle James, it has become one of the world’s great spiritual destinations.  By the 14th century, as many as 25% of all Europeans had walked the Camino.  Even today, over 200,000 hikers complete the pilgrimage every year.

The 2011 film, The Way, takes place along this famous footpath.  It is the story of Tom, an American doctor (Martin Sheen), who makes the journey after his adult son Daniel dies while attempting it.  The two of them had parted on bad terms; Tom felt his son was wasting his time, and his life, undertaking the pilgrimage.  After the death, he feels compelled to bring Daniel’s ashes with him to Spain, and honor his son’s memory by completing his journey.

Along the way, he is acquainted with three misfits, each with his or her own story.  Like all human stories, they are a mixture of tragedy and comedy.

The movie is not so much about the place as it is the journey.  And so it is with life … as is so carefully portrayed in the Christmas journey.  Pursue as we will the events of Bethlehem, ultimately and intimately, it is not about the place but the journey it reveals. 

 Christ makes the journey to earth to show us the journey to heaven and only then do we realize, heaven is not simply a place we are striving to go, but a journey we are privileged to live.  Remember, the Christ child became the Christ man and said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14: 6).  Thanks be to God!