December 18, 2012
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Reflections on the shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
Our prayers go out to all of those affected by this tragedy.
The parents, family, teachers, emergency workers, and even those of us who now fear taking our children back to school on Monday morning.
Why? Why did God allow this?”
This is the question that has gone around the nation the past two days and has shown up on my text messages as people have asked the question WHY?
I suspect many of you have been asking the question too.
On Friday morning we got up and were so excited because Samuel had a field trip and I got to go with him and spend the day with him. We went to the radio station and he talked to Santa, then we went to the museum and were having such a great time and this news headline came across my phone, there was an Elementary school shooting in Newtown Connecticut.
We went from there to McDonalds where there were several television screens and the news was starting to report the numbers killed and you could see the shock on peoples faces.
We went on to the movie theater and saw “Rise Of The Guardians” and I really didn’t see mush of it. I was watching the news and feeling more raw by the moment.
Maybe you’ve never asked why our world is infected with pain and suffering, but my guess is you will when they strike you or a loved one with full force.
Jesus was honest about the inevitability of suffering.
In John 16:33 he said, “You will have suffering in this world.”
He didn’t say you might—he said it is going to happen.
If you ask me, “Why did God allow the gunman to kill all those people with gunfire just two days ago?” The only answer I can honestly give is: “I do not know.”
I don’t have God’s mind; I don’t share his perspective.
In 1 Corinthians 13:12 we’re told, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.”
Someday we’ll see with clarity, but for now things are foggy. We can’t understand everything from our finite perspective.
But it’s still important to grapple with the question of why God allows suffering in our lives.
Even though we can’t understand everything about it, I believe we can understand some things. Let me give you an analogy.
#1. God is not the creator of evil and suffering.
“Why didn’t God merely create a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist?” The answer is: He did!
Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Love is the highest value in the universe.
And when God decided to create human beings, he wanted us to experience love.
But to give us the ability to love, God had to give us free will to decide whether to love or not to love.
Why? Because love always involves a choice.
They make these dolls with a string in the back, and when you pull it the doll says, “I love you.”
Does that doll love you? Of course not. It is programmed to say those words. Real love always involves a choice.
So in order for us to experience love, God bestowed on us free will.
But unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from him.
And that has resulted in the introduction of evil into the world.
Some people ask, “Couldn’t God have foreseen all of this?” and no doubt he did.
Many of us are parents. Even before we had children, couldn’t we foresee that there was the very real possibility they may suffer disappointment or pain or heartache in life, or that they might even hurt you and walk away from you? Of course—but you still had kids.
Why? Because you knew there was also the potential for tremendous joy and deep love and great meaning.
God knew we’d rebel against him, but he also knew many people would choose to follow him and have a relationship with him and spend eternity in heaven with him. And it was all worth it for that, even though it would cost his son great pain and suffering to achieve our redemption. So as we ponder the mystery of pain and evil, we need to be mindful that God did not create them.
#2. Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.
In Romans 8:28 the Bible promises, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Notice the verse doesn’t say God causes evil and suffering, just that he promises to cause good to emerge. And notice that the verse doesn’t say we all will see immediately or even in this life how God has caused good to emerge from a bad circumstance. Remember, we only see things dimly in this world. And God doesn’t make this promise to everyone. He makes the solemn pledge that he will take the bad circumstances that befall us and cause good to emerge if we’re committed to following him.
You might say, “No, he can’t bring good out of my circumstance. The harm was too great, the damage was too extreme, the depth of my suffering has been too much.”
But if you doubt God’s promise, listen to what a wise person once said:
“God took the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe— the death of God on the cross—and turned it into the very best thing that has happened in history of universe: the opening up of heaven to all who follow him.” If God can take the very worst circumstance imaginable and turn it into the very best situation possible, can he not take the negative circumstances of your life and create something good from them?
#3. The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.
Many people wonder: “If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, then why doesn’t he do it?”
But there’s a flaw built into the question. Just because he hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean he won’t do it.
It’s like reading half a book!
The Bible says that the story of this world isn’t over yet.
It says the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. Justice will be served in a perfect way. That day will come, but not yet. In other words, we’ve only read half the book!
So what’s holding God up? One answer is that he’s actually delaying the consummation of history in anticipation that more people will put their trust in him and spend eternity in heaven. He’s delaying everything out of his love for humanity.
Second Peter 3:9 reads: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
#4. Our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for his followers.
In Romans 8:18 we read: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Remember these words were written by the apostle Paul, who suffered through beatings and stonings and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness—far more pain that most of us will ever have to endure.
God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever.
Let the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9 soak into your soul: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
#5. We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.
Earlier I quoted part of what Jesus said in John 16:33. Now let me give you the entire verse: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
In other words, he offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future. How? Because he has conquered the world! Through his own suffering and death, he has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you. Suffering doesn’t have the last word anymore. Death doesn’t have the last word anymore. God has the last word!
“God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation.”
God isn’t some distant, detached, and disinterested deity; he entered into our world and personally experienced our pain. Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives.
Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us.
Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men.
Do you cry out that you can’t take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Did someone betray you? He was sold out.
Are your most tender relationships broken? He loved and he was rejected.
Did people turn from you? They hid their faces from him as if he were a leper.
Does He descend into all of our hells? Yes, he does.
Three Things We Must Do:
First, pray. Pray for hurting families and broken communities that have had their children ripped from them. Pray for churches to minister to the hurting. Pray for people not to lose heart. And, yes, pray for Jesus to come back and set this broken world right.
Second, don’t be afraid to say that the world is horribly broken. Speak about its broken condition. This brokenness is all around us. Evil is real– bad people are doing horrible things. The world really is broken.
The brokenness of the world is on full display this day. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. This world is broken and only God has the ultimate fix.
Third, do something. Yes, hug your kids, but find a way to serve the others and be an agent of the Kingdom of God– an ambassador of Jesus in a world that does not follow him and His ways. Respond to this evil by doing good. Join Jesus on his mission.
I am heartbroken for the parents, furious at the evil, and more resolved than ever to give my life to Christ’s mission.