I wasn’t prepared for the phone call. Jay, a friend I hadn’t talked to since high school, had just heard that an innocent little girl in town was raped and murdered…
“Where’s your God in this? Why didn’t He do something?”
“Oh,” I said, catching my breath, praying for wisdom. “You’re not alone in your feelings,” I began. “God’s broken about it too. He weeps with those who weep.” I scrambled, mentioned how Jesus was even broken about this way back on the cross. How He eternally hates sin. Its deadliness.
“Why’d He let the jerk do it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “We live in a fallen world….”
“I know what you’re doing, Cheryl, but I’m fed up with religion. I just want to be a good person and help people.”
Be a good person. I thought about the futility of my best attempts at goodness. Thought about my righteousness amounting to nothing in light of Christ’s perfection. Though about my need for Christ and His goodness. Then Jay started again.
“Christians are hypocritical!”
“Sorry,” I said. “Christ-followers ought to be the best crisis relief workers in the world! Sorry for the ones who give Christ a bad rap. It’s times like these when Christians have a chance to rise up. They should be praying, loving, and caring.”
He softened. “I’m just… trying to work it out.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s crazy. Sometimes we just need to trust that love still exists. And goodness. And hope. And heaven. Heaven’s when this will all make sense.”
I somehow managed to wrap it up with something at least halfway light, but our conversation stayed with me.
I knew I needed to put my knowledge into practice. If I didn’t want to be a “hypocrite,” I needed to pray for that little girl’s grieving family. And pray for my friend!
[box] Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. James 4:17[/box]
I haven’t forgotten about you either. Friend, whatever despicable things you’re facing… (Not to be dark, but the Bible tells us that darkness will continue to increase until the end.)… Whatever hateful sins touch your life, I pray you’re strengthened to give and receive love. I pray you fall on your knees on behalf of the hurting. Seeking God with all your heart. He’s our only hope in this dark and perverse generation!
Don’t stop believing. Don’t let Satan use darkness to steal your light. When you’re hurting, let others around you surround you, help you, love you. I know it doesn’t feel like you’ll make it, but you will. Love upholds you today. Collapse in the steady arms of your suffering Savior. He made a way where there seems to be no way. Remember His blood. None of those drops were wasted. He never wastes pain; it spills redemptive value. Even when hell tries to laugh in your face, acting like it has the last word, remember: love rules your heart!
Love has the last word.
You are God’s joy, His eternal Heir, His exceedingly great reward.
You ~ love of His life. Don’t forget it. No matter what happens tomorrow. He’s already there. Waiting to carry you home.
[box] Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5[/box]
Timothy Keller delivered this thought-provoking sermon from Ground Zero five years after 9/11/2001:
SERVICE OF REMEMBRANCE AND PEACE
FOR 9-11 VICTIMS’ FAMILIES
Ground Zero/St Paul’s Chapel Tim Keller
Sep 10, 2006
As a minister, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question – the WHY question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and that’s not going to be any different today. But we can’t shrink from the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we’ve lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to propose that, though we won’t get all of what we need, we may get some of what we need 3 ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an empowering hope from the future.
First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your belief in God, and you’re right – and you say, “How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?”
But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn’t the way things ought to be. Why not? Now I’m not going to get philosophical at a time like this. I’m just trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God—for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what will?
Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past. Now at this point, I’d like to freely acknowledge that every faith – and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian minister I know my own faith’s resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don’t question God! He has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept everything. Don’t question. The other answer is: I don’t know what God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I’d like to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we don’t have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful idea.
One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.
But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.
And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake….[They]… will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!
In the year after 9-11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The answer is YES. And the answer of the Bible is YES. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going TO COME UNTRUE.
Oh, I know many of you are saying, “I wish I could believe that.” And guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that. To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection, long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3. Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves as he is pure.” Even to have a hope in this is purifying.
Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”
That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right. Amen.