The Book of Genesis tells of the flood which destroyed a sinful humanity. When it was over, God made a promise that He would never take such action again. In other words, God imposed upon Himself a restraint, a limit. No matter how evil humanity was, God’s way with the world would not be to overpower it with force. The innocent suffering and death of Jesus are the clearest expression of God’s intent to enter into and participate in the suffering of the world. This way of facing suffering and evil, the Bible tells us, has broken the power of evil, anticipating the end of suffering. Still, suffering persists. Some suffering stems from the indifference of nature. Much suffering results from our abuse of the human will.
The ‘why’ questions that come out of such suffering do not all run in the direction of God. Asking ‘why’ can also serve to mobilize human efforts to address the conditions and circumstances that resulted in such terrible suffering and death. For there are many instances of suffering that have little mystery attached to them, such as the current pandemic we are facing. The causes may be discerned and solutions reached.
There is also the question of what we do with suffering. How do we handle it? Do we simply shake our fists at the heavens, lamenting in grief and bitterness? There is a place for that, no doubt. At the same time, suffering can take us outside of ourselves and into the suffering of others. Suffering can make us more aware of the fragile, vulnerable character of life and motivate us to stand with others in their suffering, while seeking ways to alleviate it.
There are no risk-free zones in this life. Suffering can and will be a companion. As we ask the tough questions of God and of ourselves it may be helpful to look again at the Cross and the man there who also cried out, “Why?” For there we see not only a fragile man who walked in faith with God, we also see a tender, merciful God, who walks in faith with men and women.
This insight does not exhaust the meaning of the Cross, to be sure. Jesus death, after all, was a sacrifice for sin, the end of the law, and no mere example of love. At the same time, the Cross reveals, in the deepest sense, the God who knows and participates in our suffering and who, through suffering, has fulfilled His redemptive purpose.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”