“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name.” – 1 Peter 4:12-16.
The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, brings to mind some lines from the musical Hamilton. “There are moments that the words don’t reach, there is suffering too terrible to name, you hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable.” The image of ashen-faced and visibly shaken parents waiting outside the school to find out if their child was killed is truly an unimaginable horror. It always begs the question, “Where was God in all of this?”
This is a difficult topic to address, not simply because it rattles our brains, but because it is usually discussed when our emotions are high and our hearts are rattled. Pandemics, Tsunamis, young people being shot in our schools, and then on a more personal level: why did I have to get cancer? Why did my daughter have to die? Why did I lose my job and now I can’t feed my family?
It is easy to assume that because such evils exist that God must either be 1) not good, 2) not all-powerful, or 3) or not caring. As Christians, we try to react differently to difficulties. When troubles find us, we try to react and respond with the traditional Christian stiff upper lip. And why not, we believe God will work it out. We trust God, and why we can’t see the good that comes out of this today, we believe there is a reason even if we can’t see it. But sometimes, all those words fail us and we wonder if this trouble in our lives was really necessary.
There are many examples of people who suffered in the Bible. The most often cited example is Job. Job had suffered in ways incomprehensible to most of us. And that suffering had left him confused and searching for answers. The searching for answers is instinctual because when tragedy strikes we want to know why. And what we don’t want to hear is that “God has this so don’t worry about it.” There are many other examples such as Paul and his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And Joseph. Most of the disciples suffered in life or in death. Why? There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation.
Though it is human nature to want to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that much of life is a mystery. I can accept that by trusting that God is greater and wiser and has the answers we seek. We may not know the reason for each specific instance of pain and suffering, but we have been clearly shown the bigger picture, and we can be certain that all suffering will pale in comparison to future glory. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18).
There are no easy answers to what is, this side of heaven, unexplainable. What we need to remember is that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be. God is at work in the universe. We need to weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, as Jesus did at the grave of Lazarus. In short, we need to be a people of the cross, a people whose God is not distant and blank but a God who instead loved the world enough to send His Son to die for our sins.
- Why do we want an explanation of tragic events when they occur? Do we believe that an actual theological explanation for our suffering will bring peace and comfort, joy, or hope? Why or why not?