Suffering and a few insights
By Dr. Hal Brady
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” said Jesus (John 14:1). Yet our hearts are troubled. They are troubled on every level – personal, societal, national, and global. Practically everywhere we look today we see tragedy, disaster, and hear warnings of tragedies to come.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled ...” Stating it another way, do not be nervous, anxious, or fearful. Normally, this kind of talk is meaningless to anyone to whom it is addressed. Here, however, the speaker is Jesus, and that makes it different. Essentially, Jesus is telling us to trust in God even when the way is not clear and the issues are beyond our understanding or grasp.
Now, in the light of Jesus’ admonition to trust God, I want to focus today on the tragedies of life.
First, God does not send the tragedies! Some years ago, when the “Death of God” theology was a fad, there was a bumper sticker that read, “My God
is not dead; sorry about yours.” If I had a bumper sticker today, more than likely it would read, “My God is not cruel, sorry about yours.”
One thing we people of faith and everybody else need to get clear is that human tragedy is not the will of God. As someone put it, tragedy happens because life happens. Some tragedies happen because of bad luck, some happen because of bad people, some are the inevitable consequences of our being mortal and living in a world of very inflexible natural laws and other tragedies are simply a mystery.
So “why do good people suffer?” is the age-old question and there is no complete answer to this question. However, there is an equally age-old insight: people of faith have always been able to come through suffering victoriously.
Second, God is with us in our tragedy! Do you know what business I’m in? In all probability, it is the same as your business: words. In one way or another, we all deal in words. And like you, I have been in situations where words were impossible. They were totally inadequate.
So let me ask you a question. Is it necessary that we always say something? If you have ever visited the family of a deceased person, I’m sure you know the answer to that question. Sometimes there is just no appropriate word, but our being there is the most appropriate thing anyway. Thus, the answer to the question is no, it is not necessary that we always say something. Repeating, just being there is usually good enough.
Well, what about God? Is it necessary that God always say something? Do we, in fact, expect too much talk from God? Chances are that the answer to that question, for most of us, is an unqualified yes.
But God’s promise is not to always be explaining to us. God’s promise is that He will always be with us.
King David stated in that wonderful 23rd Psalm, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for your rod and your staff – they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Note that King David is not speaking of God in terms of talk or explanation, but in terms of being present. And isn’t that the way of a true friend?
Third, God is the last word concerning the tragedy! At the center of the Christian faith is the message of hope that God brings life out of death. The God who had the first word will also have the last word. As the scripture makes clear, “After the evening, the morning” (Genesis 1:5) and after the crucifixion, the resurrection (Luke 24:5).
Perhaps the last word is the massive relief effort going on for the afflicted in tornadoes or floods or other tragic events.
Perhaps the last word is that unforgotten search for peace that continues in a terroristic, war weary world.
Perhaps the last word is the battle cry for justice in a world of injustice.
Perhaps the last word is that amazing grace and resilience in people who experience tragedy and suffering.
The late Dr. William Sloan Coffin, former pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, had a son who was killed in an automobile accident in Boston Harbor. Later, upon reflecting on it, he wrote, “The tragedy of human life is not that we suffer. What is tragic is suffering where nothing is learned, pain that doesn't get converted into strength.”
So the great question in life is not, “Why did this happen to me?” but rather “Since this happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.