I hear too many horror stories. Of course, that’s part of the ministerial profession and I’m thankful I can be available to those who trust me with their personal tragedies. But I never get past hearing about the injustices and sadness of others. Yet, at the same time, every story I hear is familiar in a way. After relaying stories of betrayal, death, misfortune, disease, and suffering, people always take the next logical step: they ask me questions of theodicy. Theodicy is just a fancy theological word for the issue of why evil exists in a world where a caring God is present. I recently finished reading this book and at the end, the author puts down some candid thoughts on this very issue. He says:
I am a theist…and must reconcile my belief in God with the existence of evil. In a word, I cannot. In spite of years of thinking and teaching about this topic…I cannot reconcile the existence of a good God with the existence of evil…I cannot fathom why God does what he does, and thus I will never understand why this God permits evil. The author of Job had to accept his ignorance and trust in his God. So do I.
I talk to people constantly who struggle with their faith in the midst of having these very same thoughts. I also find that behind the hardened exterior of the most objective atheist exists a story of personal betrayal or pain. But it’s those that follow Christ that worry me the most. They say, “I’ve committed my life to God. Why was he not there in the midst of my pain?” Good question. I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t have an answer for that. Maybe I should, but I don’t. Sure, I’ve got some good theories. We’ll sit down sometime and I’ll tell you about them…and watch your eyes glaze over after 15 minutes of theologizing. But I don’t have one simple, definitive answer. Our world teaches us that by understanding something, we can diminish it’s power over us. Education eradicates poverty or war or suffering, etc. But in moments of tragedy, knowing why something happens rarely numbs the pain of loss. That’s when it becomes clear that we don’t need answers as much as we need healing.
I can tell you this. God wants to build relationships with us that are bigger than the “why” questions we face. You see, from what I can tell, God wants to create a dynamic, living, growing level of interaction with you that eclipses that pain and confusion felt in a particular moment. Intimacy that will swallow the circumstances of a moment in time. But there’s a catch: Christianity, to withstand heartache and tragedy, cannot be nominal. It must be the center of existence for living. Otherwise, tragedy will easily swallow a fledgling faith. The question is not “Why did this happen, God?” but rather, “Is my love relationship with God strong enough that it can absorb the “whys” and unknowns of living on this planet?” In other words, is my trust in God unfazed by what I don’t understand about God? And that, my friends, is why theology only works inside the context of dynamic relationship.
Let me explain it this way. I am a minister at a church. My “job” is to foster a deeper walk with God for my congregation and create chances for them to know God in a more intimate way. But that role as a minister is only as valuable and fulfilling as my role as husband and father. The husband and father roles are much more important. I know, I know. I’m ”called” to the ministry, right? Nope. I’m called to be a Christ-follower, a husband, and a father. My professional life is only a result of those deeper, more important relationships. Some truths have such significance that they inform and shape our understanding of our world. And that’s what matters in the midst of the “whys.” I believe confusion and pain and tragedy in our lives can take a back seat to the overflowing abundance of God’s grace and love. The unknowns can be swallowed up in the definitively known: the security of God’s unconquerable love. That may not tell you why tragedy happens…but it may help you survive in the midst of it.