It’s been a tough couple weeks around the world news wise. Hurricanes, flooding, fires, earthquakes and an already marginalized Muslim ethnic minority group (over 400,000 Royhinga’s) in Myanmar have been driven out of the country, their homes burned, and becoming unwelcome refugees (read more here) in surrounding countries. There have been some really horrible, tragic and sad images and stories. Children who died in the Mexico earthquakes. A couple million in Asia who have lost everything in floods along with 1,400 who died (read more here to help). Hurricanes demolishing entire islands and thousands losing their homes in the Caribbean/US. In the article linked above, there is a picture of a Royhinga mother holding her dead infant child, gazing with grief at his lifeless body.
Where is God? What is He trying to tell us? Doesn’t He care? Why doesn’t He stop these things? Is He powerless? Unloving? Is it evidence that there is no God? These are real questions people have. These are real feelings people deeply feel. And Christians should not shy away from this issue. In fact, we often wrestle with these questions and feelings as much as anyone else.
On the bright side, it is interesting to note that there are many articles out there of how Christians have not been shying away or turning away from the suffering of the world. It is in fact an encouraging thing when Christians “let their light shine” as Jesus called us to do (Matthew 5:14-16), not for our own glory, but to reveal and reflect His goodness. For as many tragic stories there are also as many heart-warming stories of rescue, relief and God’s providence in placing His people in places were they were able to help (Read this story of a prominent pastor who was stranded in the Caribbean and had to ride out the hurricane, but as a result was able to get aid in, in a bigger way than may have been the case, had he not been there).
Many churches, believers and non-profits have in fact been outpacing government efforts and are often the ones to race towards suffering and stay alongside the suffering. (This is not to minimize the compassionate and heroic efforts of many other relief agencies and people of good-will who wouldn’t identify as Christian). But the answer to why Christians tend to always show up and stay in the midst of human suffering, is found in a profound reality they have found in their Savior: it’s what Jesus did and where He is, in or moments of pain and suffering.
Christianity does not try to shy away from suffering or try to ignore it. (That is not to say anyone enjoys it or looks for it!). But it does deal the most honestly, rawly, directly and deeply. Suffering is a theme that runs all throughout the Bible. And Jesus himself, God in human flesh, did not avoid it, but entered into it and endured the worst conceivable. The suffering of Jesus on the cross for our sin, is at the very heart and core of our entire faith. His coming and living among us, as one of us, suffering as we do, and even because of us, makes him truly “Immanuel, God with us.” While Jesus was sinless, He was not immune to the suffering of a fallen world due to sin. And a powerful question to ask is, what other “god” is there like this? What other “king” would suffer for his people and take their place and punishment upon himself? What other “religion” deals so deeply and honestly with suffering? What other “savior” makes it this personal and enters into it so fully?
If there is one truth it is this: God is not passive or absent in the face of suffering. To the contrary He is actually very present. In fact, there is verse after verse in the Bible, of how He is especially near us in times of sorrow, suffering, pain and grief. Rather than repeal him, suffering actually attracts Him. The problem is, we often push away the very One who truly understands and comes to comfort us, in our anger and grief. But even in this, He understands and grieves for us and with us. He knows we wrestle, even with Him. The Bible is full of characters who wrestled with pain and with God (Job is perhaps the most classic example). And yet, He calls us to trust Him even when we don’t understand and as we wrestle. He invites us to draw near as He draws near to us.
And so, for the Christian whose heart is sensitive to Christ, for those who have tasted of His comfort in their suffering, and see his heart in the pages of Scripture, they too are compelled to bring comfort to the afflicted, even at personal cost and sacrifice to themselves. They are compelled to “be present” as He has been present for them, and as they see in the pages of Scripture.
Where is God? He is right there, working through His people who show up, and even those who don’t know him, but are moved with compassion and take action.
The second question is this: what is God trying to tell us through these things? First of all his mercy and compassion in the midst of these disasters, remind us that He loves us. Circumstances may try to dictate otherwise, but you only have to look at the cross on which He hung for or sin, to remember He cares. You only have to remember that Jesus left the glory and perfection of heaven to come to this broken, fallen and suffering world. And He came especially to heal, save, deliver, redeem and restore the hurting and weary. He came to reveal the very heart of God. For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).
Secondly, these disasters are much more than a debate over global warming. They are a reminder to the world in general that we live in a sinful and broken world. These “disasters” and events are not necessarily brought upon us (or those affected) because somehow “those people” affected directly, are worse sinners than anyone else, or even because “their” (or our) personal sin is being directly punished. Even the righteous suffer due to simply living in a fallen world. But they are a wake up call in general to all of us to repent. Jesus once spoke to two “national tragedy’s” in his day. His message was this: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:2-5).
Jesus was taking these earthly events to directly remind of a tragedy worse even than earthly death: eternal death. The world is messed up and bad things happen because sin has all kinds of consequences and plays out in many different forms. And death is the result. But physical death is not the worst tragedy. Eternal death, separation from God, is the worst tragedy of all. These events, if we are willing to look deeper, remind us of this reality that we typically spend very little to no time even considering, let alone living in light of.
This life is not all there is. There is a judgment to come and we will give an account of our lives before God. The problem is, we are all guilty of sin. We need to repent in order to live eternally. Jesus Himself was quite direct and clear on this. He spent a large portion of His time and messages warning of these realities. We all need a Savior who is in fact, seeking to draw each us to Himself and save us from ourselves. These events can serve to shake us out of our complacency to realities much more significant than our earthly lives. There are issues bigger than a life of ease and comfort. There are eternal matters greater than only earthly concerns.
This world is broken and fallen because of sin. Creation itself has been thrown off balance because of human sin. This is not God’s fault. His righteous wrath against human sin is demanded of true justice (Romans 1:18-32). But in His mercy and undeserved kindness, He offers salvation through Jesus Christ. The call to repentance is the most gracious and compassionate of all. But there are only three possible choices we have in times like this: we get angry with God and reject him, we soften our hearts and run to him, or we remain complacent (which is also a form of rejection). Two of these ways lead to a heart and conscience that becomes harder towards God and leads to eternal death. The other leads to salvation and eternal life.
***If you have not repented of your sin and placed your faith in Jesus Christ, now is the time, because you do not know how much “time” you may have left on this earth. If you are not convinced of these eternal realities, I would encourage you to seek out the truth for yourself. I invite you to study Scripture with an open and honest heart. You may dismiss them as untrue, but I would ask this one question: what if it is true? Do you really want to risk being wrong without first being open to the fact that it could be true?
Secondly, if you are suffering, I encourage you to reach out to the One who truly understands suffering. Scripture assures us, if we draw near to him, he will draw near to us. Answers to “why” will never be sufficient. But his very presence, and the comfort He provides, is what our hearts most need in times of suffering. He invites the broken and weary in fact to come to him, assuring us He is gentle and humble in heart and that we will find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28).
Thirdly, as Christians, let us continue to show his compassion, mercy and grace through good works and deeds that meet real needs. Christians are to be known for their generosity and “showing up” in times of need. There are many ways to get involved, whether through local churches, volunteer teams or non-profit organizations such as Samaritans Purse or the mission organization I lead, called ServeNow.