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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

02 May 2011

A Loving God in a Disaster Filled World

From the Archives

I thought this a good time to bring this question out of the archives as we continue our Easter celebration even in the aftermath of earthquakes, tsunamis, and killer tornadoes.

Q: Why do evil things happen to good people?

A: This question comes to pastors more often than almost any other spiritual query. As I visit sick and, especially, dying people, I ask, too. Why this saintly person? Why not that other “not-so-good” person?

Heart BeatOthers’ (or my own) pain and suffering reminds me of my grandparents’ deaths. One grandfather died slowly, fighting for breath as emphysema overtook him. The other went suddenly with a massive heart attack. Prepared for the first, our family’s pain and shock was lessened somewhat. Similarly, one grandmother died of liver cancer, which filled her body with pain. Near the end, every little movement of the hospital sheets across her skin brought agony. The other slipped quietly away in her sleep. Again, the family’s pain was lessened in the former’s passing, since we had time to prepare and to begin our mourning while she was still with us. But her own physical pain was much greater.

Searching the Scriptures, we find the basics: Pain, suffering, and death entered the world because of Adam’s fall into sin. Each of us earns the “wages of sin,” which, Paul reminds us, “is death. (Romans 6:23)” Each of us faces toil and hardship, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.

While we know this by faith and by intellect, the specifics bother us. And comparisons — a form of unscriptural judging — often trigger our problem: Why did the most overtly God-fearing, practicing Christian among my grandparents suffer the most painful death? Why did she, years before, have to watch her husband slowly strangle under his failing lungs?

CoffinThese events can cause even strong believers to ask, “God, why’d You do this to such a saint instead of to that sinner down the street?” Why do we sometimes still cry over memories, years after a final hospital visit, long after a coffin was lowered? It’s not fair, is it? When we get in God’s face and start yelling our rage, our pain, our frustration, where’s our answer? Why doesn’t He give us a clear sign?

Maybe, though, He already has; perhaps He even gave us multiple signs, if we would only remember where to look and how to see.

Look first at Job: Remember his terrible suffering. Remember also a God who basically says to this righteous man (and to us): “Mind your own business. When you’re God, then you can make the rules.” We keep running up against One who says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. (Isaiah 55:8)” The Psalms are likewise full of laments at personal or societal suffering, when no end seems in sight. Yet when we look closer, we see hope glimmering. These same Psalms which complain about the pain also say, “Yet will I still praise God.” And so will we.

God sometimes uses suffering as a teaching tool. Pain may turn us from what is unnecessary or wrong to Him who is truly the One thing needed. He even uses our afflictions to draw attention and praise to Himself. Remember the healing of the man who was blind from birth in John 9. Jesus was asked whose sin it was that caused the blindness: Was it the parents’ fault, or did God anticipate a future infraction in the man and punish it in advance? Neither, is what Jesus said. This happened so God could be glorified, said the Savior — who then proceeded to heal the man.

Ultimately, we’ll never have a full answer in this life as to why bad things happen to good people — with one great exception. Otherwise, even the beauty of the Easter Gospel at a funeral, even all the other Bible words of hope and consolation sound trite and hollow when our pain is so great. The exception is in the totally unwarranted agony of Jesus. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.... He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)”

Caravaggio's Disbelieving ThomasWe know why He suffered. He paid the price demanded for our failure. His loss was our gain, His pain our pleasure, His agony our ecstasy. Sitting in the rubble of his life, Job could still look forward to his Savior’s day and say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (19:25-27)” The hymn based on this Scripture concludes: “He lives, all glory to His Name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’”

He lives, and because He lives, we shall live also (cf. John 14:19). In the worst of times, we know we have One on our side who’s already faced the same terrible pain, who’s already shouldered the same staggering load, and who’s already crushed sin, death, and devil beneath His almighty foot. He is the clear Sign that God loves us. He has shown us the height and the depth of His love for us. “All glory to His Name!” Amen.

Search this blog for related columns, including Why Suffering and Death?

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

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Expanded from newspaper column #15


Blogger David C Brown said...

"For who is the son that the father chastens not?", Heb 12: 7. I remember when going through a little stress hearing someone praying and saying - from this Scripture - that suffering is the evidence of sonship.

03 May, 2011 16:25  
Anonymous Robert said...

I have to say thanks for this answer,
but it still bother me how is it possible that if god is good,good man suffer and bad people still leaving the good life?

07 May, 2011 09:31  
Blogger I wonder as I wander said...

Remember also a God who basically says to this righteous man (and to us): “Mind your own business. When you’re God, then you can make the rules.” When I read that particular series of passages during a Bible study, I walked away from prayer altogether for quite some time. What is the point of being open with God, giving my pain to Him and asking Him questions if he's essentially just going to smack me upside the head and tell me to shut up and back off?

09 May, 2011 22:13  

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