As I've said here and elsewhere more than once, the question about why there is suffering and evil in the world if God is good and in charge is the open wound of religion.
People who understand that don't spend their lives offering faulty reasons, stupid reasons, unhelpful reasons to people in pain who wonder why.
People who don't understand that say such things as "There's a reason for everything" or "Your son died because God needed another angel in heaven" or "You'd be healed if you had prayed harder" or "God allowed a hurricane to hit New Orleans to punish its sins."
Several decades ago, author Philip Yancey helped me understand this matter in his book Where Is God When It Hurts?
In some sense, his just-released latest book, The Question That Never Goes Away, is a reprise of that earlier book, but it's also a more mature, more thoughtful, more helpful version. Yancey, after much experience counseling grieving people, speaks of natural disasters such as tsunamis, human catastrophes like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and bloody wars, such as in the former Yugoslavia, to raise these issues. But the central theme is the same: Wonder about evil and God's willingness for it to have a place in the creation all you want, but you won't find a full answer to "Why?" at least on this side of heaven.
Instead, you will find a call to be with people in pain to ease their suffering. And you will hear the Christian messages that God is with us in suffering, often through others, and that God knows what our suffering is all about because God became incarnate as Jesus Christ and experienced that suffering, even unto death.
One of Yancey's most helpful observations is that huge disasters may raise the theodicy question most sharply, but "they teach us nothing new about the world we live in. The scale of suffering doesn't change the underlying issues. Suffering, evil and death blight our planet, and catastrophes simply concentrate the misery we already know so well."
Think of it this way: The theodicy question would get raised even if there were only a tiny bit of suffering and evil in the world -- a single stubbed toe, a fender bender, a fall that breaks a bone, a bad head cold. The same question about why God would permit such things is in play in those instances just as it is more prominently in the Holocaust, in tornadoes, in mass murders.
But, as Yancey notes, even the Bible gives "no systematic explanation for the problem of suffering." It just doesn't. Even when Jesus is asked about such things he deflects the question to focus instead on how to live faithfully in the midst of pain. And the whole book of Job was written to say that suffering is not a sign that the sufferer has sinned.
"God," Yancey writes, "evidently prefers not to intervene in every instance of evil or natural disaster, no matter how grievous. Rather, God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world." And Christians engage in that intervention with the faith that one day God will put all this to rights, as God has promised.
"Faith, I've concluded, means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse," Yancey writes.
In the meantime, the "Why?" question will never get fully answered and, worse, asking it may rub salt in the wounds of people in pain.
I always find it reassuring to find theologians, preachers, healers, counselors and others who understand that there's no full answer to the issue of theodicy.
So good for Yancey. And good for us who read this wisdom.
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The former archbishop of Canterbury says the pressure to have a perfect wedding is one of the things damaging marriage itself. Yes, and have you noticed that often much, much, much more attention gets paid to preparing for the wedding than to preparing for the marriage?