By now we've all heard the horrific story of the Boston Marathon bombing and viewed those frightful images again and again. (And, to make matters worse, many were awakened this morning, as I was, to the news of an explosion in Texas.) So, once again, in a tedium of "agains,"we've whispered the ultimate question, -- the one we hate to ask, but always do. Why does a good God allow these evil things to happen?
This question, of course, has been tackled many times by better thinkers, theologians, writers and apologists than me. But it is one of the most often visited points of interest along the road of apologetics. Whenever anything like the events of this week happen, we are pushed backwards into doubt and frustration, and our faith seems to be drained of all that robust power upon which lean so securely when things are going well. At this point, it always pays to review our orthodoxy, asking anew, "what do we believe about pain and suffering?" Recalling this information can help us get our bearings back by reinforcing what we know, even if we only know it by faith.
First of all, we need to realize that suffering is inherent in the physical world. I do not believe that death and suffering came about as a direct and singular result of the Fall of Mankind into sin. Every physical thing is subject to the laws of decay, and as such, it will degenerate, be acted upon by conflicting forces, and even give up its physical life entirely and die. That's just the way the universe works. I think that, even if Paradise (in the sense of the Garden of Eden) had been preserved, we would still experience our share of painful events and bodily death. Of, course, this experience would be very different. It would be (I think) without sorrow, emotional trauma or regret.
Sin, however, took these natural traits of physicality and corrupted them, so that we feel intense sorrow, grief and physical pain when bad things happen. By sinning, we entered the "dark side" of the physical experience. Because each person is born a sinner, sin seems to multiply its negative consequences where people gather, in communities, families and society. Evil takes on a kind of domino effect; one sinful act sets off another and another, while simultaneously spreading out and impacting all the people and places it touches.
When we say that God is removed from the sufferings of the world, or impassively stands aloof while evil wrecks havoc all around us, we are forgetting that God is keenly aware of pain and suffering, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered acutely. The experiences surrounding his Passion clearly illustrate the fact that he was human, and to be human is to suffer. He did not use his deity to prevent the pain he endured.
I find it interesting that Jesus addressed the very question we are considering here. In Luke 13, He mentions a couple of contemporary tragedies that were being talked about in the public square. One was a deliberate violent act ( Pilate had the Galileans murdered,) and the other was a horrible accident (a tower fell on some men.) Jesus says that these events did not occur because the people involved were sinners and were therefore being judged for their sins. These things happened just because they happened; Jesus does not explain why they happened. But he urges us to stop and think -- we're all going to face the biggest tragedy of all, death. Jesus says, "Repent! Make sure you are prepared."
Finally, we must always remember that God loves and cares for all of us. He always provides comfort and hope in suffering. Surrounding every horrific act is an abundance of good -- heroic acts, selfless giving, tears shed together, and hands extended to help. God assured the prophet Isaiah with these words that still ring true today: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. I am the Lord, your God, your Savior" (Isa. 43:2,3 NIV) The one who walks with us is the not only the one who cares and the one who consoles, he's the one who's been there, too, and the one who will, one day, make everything that went wrong right.