Last weekend I was up at a resort in New Hampshire, celebrating my brother’s wedding, just so cozy and joyful in the middle of all the mountains and sunshine and celebration of God’s gift of love. Lalalala. No cellphones, no internet, no outside world. I could go on and on about how glorious it was, but instead, I’m going to take a dark turn. Whoops, sorry.
Coming back to the real world suuuuuuuuuucked. I caught the news one night and just sort of dissolved in the ugliness of it all. Anyone else sometimes feel that all of the pain in this world might just split their heart like a watermelon?
What’s happening in Ferguson (and what it tells my little sociological brain about the brokenness of our socioeconomic and political systems…) breaks my heart.The violence and persecution in Iraq, the devastation of Ebola, the craziness in Ukraine, that homeless man that just shuffled below my deck to dig for cans in my trash…it all just chips away at me. Coming back to the real world makes me want to run back up to our resort and go back off the grid. And that makes me a little embarrassed because I’m supposed to be a salt and a light and a sociologist and a feminist and all of those brave things.But sometimes it just feels like too much, right? Sometimes the God of love we celebrated and thanked and praised all weekend seems so absent once I turn on the news.
And it begs that age-old question that every apologist gets slammed with:
Why does a good God allow such terrible things to happen?
Why doesn’t he swoop in and save the crack babies and the rape victims and the bent and broken? Where was he in Ferguson? Where is He in Iraq and Syria?
Normally, I leave this to the experts to answer. I let the “real” bloggers and writers and good-news-tellers get in there and be the adults and bear that burden. But a few months ago, a reader emailed ME with this little question…so I shared with them the best answer I’ve heard to this impossible question and I’ve been rolling it around in my mind like a lozenge ever since. It’s not perfect or foolproof. It’s probably not the least bit comforting to anyone affected by any of these tragedies. But it’s all I’ve got. And I believe it to be true, in spite of it all, I really do. And sometimes just a flicker of truth is all it takes to burn off some of that fog so we can continue on with purpose and compassion. To see and address the wounds we’re called to and battle injustice in our own unique way.
Before I share this (limited!) answer, I will say that one thing that gives me comfort with tough questions is this:
If God was a God I could explain with my puny human brain, would He really be worth worshipping?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t explore the tough questions…but it DOES encourage me when I consider how many tough questions there are. Here’s what I wrote to my wonderful reader and here’s what I’ve anchored my hope and joy to in the days since returning from the wedding:
So, the best answer I’ve read to this complex question actually came from this really cool book I read for a class on Jewish Culture. It’s written by a Christian man who started attending a theology class at a Jewish synagogue and ends up learning a deeper Christian theology in the process. (It’s called The Gospel According to Moses by Athol Dickson and I highly recommend it). Anyways, during an inevitable discussion on the Holocaust, someone asks that same question and the rabbi explains it this way (let’s see if I can summarize):
If we really believe that God is the purest essence of goodness, we must believe this about all of His attributes. That is, he cannot be just a little bit of something. He is wholly good, wholly loving, wholly righteous, etc. In that same vein, if we believe He is just, He must be wholly just.
If we could somehow implore a wholly just God to come down and stop suffering, His justice would be…whole. It would be complete. It would not stop with genocide or rape or war or even burglary and abuse. It would sweep through all of humanity – we would all be destroyed because none of us is wholly just.
Does this make sense? I hope I’m explaining it well…
So the rabbi’s explanation was that God’s goodness is inversely shown in the fact that He limits himself. He witholds justice not because He is indifferent or powerless, but because He is merciful beyond our scope, because it would have to be a complete justice for it to be from Him. And none would survive.
All of the suffering in our world is caused not by God but by the fact that we are broken. His goodness doesn’t lie in whether or not he sweeps away that brokenness, but in the fact that while He’s been witholding justice, He came down, dwelt among us and created a bridge across the brokenness to Heaven – the only place where things are whole.
He planted hope.
And in the meantime, He left His spirit to comfort us in the horrors of our lives and to urge us to act as His hands and feet, filling us with His justice and compassion, so we’re compelled to usher what small justices and mercies we can offer here – roadsigns to point others to the hope we have found. Toward that bridge.
No, this does not change things or excuse things or fix things. It doesn’t even fully explain things. I get that. But I find that if I can root myself in the assurance that He is wholly good, I find it easier to – as Wendell Berry implores-
Be joyful, though you have considered all of the facts.
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