“Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.”John 9:1-5 (The Message)
Tragedy can strike so quickly and capriciously. While going about our everyday lives, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, the world can change. We’ve seen this happen with the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The world has changed, our relationships with others have changed, the rhythms of work and family have changed, our very lives have changed.
Each day we are barraged with statistics of increasing numbers of people who are infected and people who have died from the virus. Each of these numbers represents someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother,
grandmother, grandfather, friend. Some historians have labeled the period through which we’re living as “The Great Adjustment.” Whatever label we apply to it, we know that it is a tragic and challenging time through which we are living. Our nation has lived through tragedies before: Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, the Challenger Accident, and 9-11. Then there are natural disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes as well as the personal tragedies we have experienced with the death of a loved one. And now we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain future it has brought to our every day lives.
From the beginning of time people have tried to answer the question, “Why?” when tragedy occurs. The Scriptures clearly teach that God does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men (Lamentations 3:33). However, the more serious question for most believers is this: Why does God allow such awful things to happen?
If God is omnipotent then why is there tragedy and suffering in the world? There is a theological description of this problem. It’s called the “problem of theodicy.” There is even a little poem that well sums up the problem:
“If God is God, He is not good.
If God is good, He is not God.
Take the even, take the odd.”
In other words, we cannot logically affirm that God is all powerful and God is the source of all goodness if evil exists in the world. Some theologians like the late Schubert Ogden have tried to solve this problem by suggesting that God is not all powerful in the sense that God can control all things. God is the most powerful but not all powerful. While this might seem like a logical solution, it doxes not square up with the God presented in the Bible.
There have always been people who have tried to rationalize or explain away evil. In our scripture reading from John 9, Jesus’ disciples tried to do just that. They were confronted with a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples offered a simple explanation to explain away this tragedy. It had to be God’s punishment for something the man or his parents had done. But Jesus rejected their question. “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do” (John 9:4-5). Things are not that simple. Life defies pat answers to complex problems. Jesus doesn’t even try to answer the problem of tragedy. He instead invites us to look at tragedy and suffering as an opportunity for God and (by extension) God’s servants to be at work. “Look instead for what God can do” (John 9:5).
There are no easy answers to the problem of tragedy and suffering. God doesn’t provide us with a rational theological answer. And even if God did it would not be satisfying, particularly when we have lost someone we love. No, instead of offering us a cold, analytical explanation for the cause of tragedy and suffering, God offers us something infinitely greater. God offers us God’s self. That’s what the message of the cross and resurrection is all about. God took our pain, our suffering, our failures, our tragedies upon God’s self by dying upon the cross for us through Jesus. We don’t suffer alone. We don’t grieve alone. We don’t die alone. Jesus came into our world to live, die and be resurrected for us.
None of us is excluded from pain and sorrow. God doesn’t promise us a rose garden. But God does promise us His presence, his strength, His courage, His victory to endure and ultimately overcome suffering and sorrow. And that’s more comforting than any explanation.
Ruth H. Calkin, offers a prayer from her book, “Lord, Could You Hurry a Little?” I want to borrow her prayer in closing.
“Lord, you who permit my grief
Are the only One
Who can assuage it.
Do you permit grief
That I might learn
To be content
With nothing less
Than the comfort of God?
Whatever the reason
One thing I am learning:
You make useful to me
All that you permit.
So, dear God
Though a great ache
Wells within my heart
I ask you to grip my life.
Empower me to go
From depth to depth with You
Until I am a “wounded healer”
Bringing your comfort to others
As you are now comforting me. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Have you ever asked the question, “Why, God?” What were the circumstances?
2. Have you ever been in a tragic circumstance when someone tried to offer pat answers such as “This was the will of God”? How did that make you feel?
3. Through the cross, Jesus has taken our suffering, afflictions and sorrows upon himself (See Isaiah 53:4-5).
God does not remove our tragedy but He does take it upon Himself through the cross. We don’t suffer alone. Does knowing this make a difference as you face an uncertain future? How?