Earlier today I was skimming the comment section on Pastor Brad Strait’s recent viral blog post about a member of his congregation who has miraculously survived the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It’s a truly touching story – the kind that gives the faithful goosebumps and reminds us of God’s gracious involvement in our world. I love to hear stories like this, and I do think that this is the kind of thing we should thank God for.
But… you don’t have to scroll down very far to see the predictable (and understandable!) responses from the skeptic crowd: “Miracle?! Tell that to the families of those who died. God’s choice to save one person was a choice not to save others. How can you believe in a god like that?” [And, as an aside, it appears that Pastor Brad has been attempting to respond to these objections intelligently and gracefully]
This of course touches on the question of theodicy: If God is both “good” and “all-powerful” – why suffering and evil?
Before we jump into this with one of the typical pat responses (like: “This is all part of God’s bigger plan,” or, “God gave humans free will, and can’t be blamed for what humans do with it”)… let’s step back for a moment. Is there ever a truly satisfying “answer” to this question, especially to the one suffering? In The Trinity and the Kingdom, Jürgen Moltmann reminds us of what is at stake when we enter into this question:
It is in suffering that the whole human question about God arises; for incomprehensible suffering calls the God of men and women in question. The suffering of a single innocent child is an irrefutable rebuttal of the notion of the almighty and kindly God in heaven. For a God who lets the innocent suffer and who permits senseless death is not worthy to be called God at all. Wherever the suffering of the living in all its manifold forms pierces our consciousness with its pain, we lose our childish primal confidence and our trust in God. The person who is torn by suffering stands alone. There is no explanation of suffering which is capable of obliterating his pain, and no consolation of a higher wisdom which could assuage it. The person who cries out in pain over suffering has a dignity of his own which neither men nor gods can rob him of. The story of Job makes this evident; and since that time no theology can fall below Job’s level. The theology of `Job’s friends’ is confuted. Does Job have any real theological friend except the crucified Jesus on Golgotha?
~Jürgen Moltmann. The Trinity and the Kingdom (Kindle Locations 782-789). My emphasis.
Chew on that for a moment. To where do we look in times of suffering? To a neat and tidy theological explanation, like Job’s friends? Or to Jesus the Christ – the one crucified with and for the godless and godforsaken?
Moltmann continues, reminding us that the problem isn’t going away, that it will remain for as long as we go on living in this world:
No one can answer the theodicy question in this world, and no one can get rid of it. Life in this world means living with this open question, and seeking the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored. The question of theodicy is not a speculative question; it is a critical one. It is the all-embracing eschatological question. It is not purely theoretical, for it cannot be answered with any new theory about the existing world. It is a practical question which will only be answered through experience of the new world in which `God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’. It is not really a question at all, in the sense of something we can ask or not ask, like other questions. It is the open wound of life in this world. It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound. The person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world, and the more passionately he asks about God and the new creation.
~Moltmann, Trinity (Kindle Locations 807-816). Author’s emphasis.
Theodicy is the open wound of life in this world. Faith is not a way of detaching ourselves from the pain and suffering of ourselves and others in the world… but (more profoundly) of entering into the problem of suffering. And when we do, we cannot help but long for and work towards something better. That longing is pregnant with hope for the day when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”