@AlphaOmega When I visited a holocaust museum on the island of Jersey, it was one of the saddest moments of my life. What was disturbing was not only the horror of what was done, but that people actually betrayed their neighbors in order to curry favor with such an evil regime. I firmly believe a moment of silent prayer is necessary before addressing such darkness within the human condition. Lord, have mercy.
When asked, “Where was Jesus on 9/11?” a well known preacher responded, “He was on the cross.” I do not think we can ever know why such terrible things are allowed to happen, but I think the reality that God Himself voluntarily was beaten beyond recognition and nailed to a tree is proof that He does not stand aloof from our suffering.
I do not have answers, but I can share the truths that have helped me process these terrible tragedies within the context of my faith in Christ. These truths are not separated from reality, but we can read stories from history of people who really lived them out - who found hope in suffering and who became Christ for those in need. I believe this great cloud of witnesses is one of the strongest ways to bolster our faith in the midst of such gut wrenching questions.
- God walks with us through suffering
- God has witnesses in dark places
- God may have reasons we cannot see
- God has eternity to set things right
God walks with us through suffering
When we call upon the Lord, He will walk with us through suffering. Two poignant examples for me are the African American Church and Annie Johnson Flint. In spite of all they went through, they still found Christ to be the greatest source of strength and comfort, trusting that one day He would set all things right.
The question that remains is why. Why did enslaved Africans embrace the religion of their captors, who used the Bible to justify the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade? Powery and Sadler’s simple answer is that “they fell in love with the God of Scripture.…In Christ they found salvation from their sins and reconciliation.” They conclude that though this was certainly enough, there was more to the answer. They write: In these texts they found not just an otherworldly God offering spiritual blessings, but a here-and-now God who cared principally for the oppressed, acting historically and eschatologically to deliver the down trodden from their abusers. They also found Jesus, a suffering Savior whose life and struggles paralleled their own struggles.
This strong tradition gave a people hope that God would act to provide justice for enslaved Africans and all who were oppressed. It was this faith that gave African Americans the arguments against the religion of the slaveholders. It gave a people a profound sense of dignity, identity, and significance, which led the church to be the most enduring and shaping institution in the African American story.
Annie Johnson Flint’s parents died when she was young. She came to know Christ through an adoptive family, but had to give up her dream of being a concert pianist because she became an invalid suffering from terrible rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and eventually blindness.
He Giveth More Grace by Annie Johnson Flint
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
God has Witnesses in the Dark Places
Even in the terrible darkness behind the iron curtain and in the concentration camps, still God’s light shone. His servants were there - ministering to those even within the prison walls.
“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’ ] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ
Corrie Ten Boom snuck Bibles into the concentration camps and with her sister led worship services. She writes in her book The Hiding Place , “At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder… A single meeting might include a recital of the Magnifacat in Latin by a group on Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a sotto-voce chant by Eastern Orthodox women. With each moment, the crowd around us would swell… At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb.”
A quote from a man who smuggled Bibles behind the iron curtain to minister to the saints there… “Lord, in my luggage I have Scripture I want to take to your children. When you were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.” Brother Andrew, God’s Smuggler
God May Have Reasons We Cannot See
In “Reasons for God”, Tim Keller makes the point that God’s reasons may not be perceptible to us, but that does not mean they do not exist.
“Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless. …Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order.” Tim Keller
Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga provides an illustration to address the above flaw in reasoning. “If you look into your pup-tent for a St. Bernard, and you don’t see one, it is reasonable to assume that there is no St. Bernard in your tent. But if you look into your pup tent for a ‘no-see-um’ (an extremely small insect with a bite out of all proportion to its size) and you don’t see any, it is not reasonable to assume that they are not there. Because, after all, no one can see 'em. Many assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds, more like St. Bernards than like no-see-ums, but why should that be the case?”
God has eternity to set things right
Jesus told the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Lazarus lay there with sores all over his body and with no proper clothing - licked by dogs, which the Jews considered unclean. His life was one of misery. But in the afterlife he found rest and fullness of joy.
Too often we forget that this life is but a passing thing. We all die. The story goes on. But the Great Story - the eternal joy of God - awaits all who are found in Him.
John 16:33 - I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Romans 8:18 - For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”