- In the flickering light of the computer screen at night.
- In the big house with only one inhabitant.
- In our chronic distrust of one another.
- In the younger generation’s cynicism.
We are alone. Isolated. Friendships fade. Relationships are severed. Trust is broken.
All these symptoms of loneliness point to a greater relationship that has been severed – our relationship with God. We have rebelled against God. We have spit in his face and demanded our own way.
God offers living water. We poison the well.
God desires fellowship with us. We spurn his friendship.
God offers his eternal life. We turn away and march toward death.
God offers healing. We try to heal ourselves and only exacerbate our disease.
Alienation follows. The fallout from our rebellion is that everyone suffers. Suffering and pain are now ingrained in our lives.
But God knows our plight. He is not absent from our pain. Even as he rightly condemns our rebellion, he willingly suffers alongside of us, bearing the devastating effects of our sinfulness. Isaiah 53: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The Servant of God is there. He dies with us. He carries the weight – not only of sin, but also its horrible consequences.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
“The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces.”
A Broken World
In November 2008, Mumbai, the largest city in India, became the target of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that killed 173 people. Two of the victims were from New York – a Jewish Rabbi and his wife, both in their late 20’s. Kashmiri militants entered the rabbi’s home and slaughtered the parents. The nanny found their 2-year-old son, Moshe, sitting in a pool of his parents’ blood.
When the memorial service took place in Brooklyn, New York, the two-year-old boy cried out for his slain parents. “Ima! Abba!” he said, using the Hebrew words for mother and father. “Ima! Abba!” he moaned. Little Moshe’s mournful wail echoed through the synagogue, drowning out the voices of the hundreds of people grieving his parents’ death.
An inconsolable two-year-old, crying out for his dead parents. My heart wells up with the question: Why? Why does God allow this kind of pain? Why is the world such a messed-up, broken place? And how do we make sense of the beauty that we still see in this world that features so much ugliness?
What is it like to witness the changing of the seasons from behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp? How does a Holocaust victim admire a glorious sunset when it serves as the backdrop for smoke rising to the sky, smoke coming from piles of burning bodies of men, women and children?
How do we make sense of the evil that exists in a world of such beauty?
I have an agnostic friend who cannot come to grips with the suffering he has witnessed in this world:
- Children are abused.
- Criminals with money go scot free.
- Innocent lives are snuffed out in war.
- Systemic injustice confines people to perpetual poverty.
“What can you say about a God who would allow such pain?” he asks. His question is deeply personal. Thankfully, the answer is too.
Jesus is God’s Answer
Christianity does not answer the question Why. Instead, God provides – not the answer to the intellectual dilemma – but the resolution to the problem. Christians look to the cross. There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He is not above grief. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.
The cry of little Moshe was once the cry of Jesus. “Abba! Abba!” he cried in the Garden of Gethsemane. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
It is because of the cross that we know God is not absent from our suffering and pain. It is because of the cross that we can experience forgiveness and reconciliation and peace with God.
As we witness the evil and pain in this world, we too cry out Abba! Abba! God does not give us an explanation. He gives us himself. Jesus is God’s answer to our cry.
Where is God? He is here…
In the book, Night, Elie Wiesel describes his journey through the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Wiesel describes in horrific detail the “chimney,” – the place where the bodies of Jewish men, women, and children were thrown into a blazing fire. Wiesel rebels against God. He refuses to fast on Jewish holy days. He questions the existence of God. The human evil of Auschwitz is too overwhelming to comprehend. Wiesel claims that human words cannot express the suffering he experienced.
The most disturbing scene in the book takes place when an innocent 12-year-old boy is forced to die, even though he did not commit the crime for which he is punished. He and three others are placed on the gallows and hanged. The rest of the prisoners are forced to walk by and look squarely into the faces of the executed.
“But the third rope was still moving. The child, too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes…”
“Behind me, I heard the same man asking, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?'” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…'”
This event marks a turning point for Wiesel. In his thoughts at that time, God is dead. Yet, as a Christian, I sense something deeper in this story. In the midst of human suffering and evil, we too look to an Innocent One dying an excruciating death. We look to Jesus – suspended between earth and sky, hovering between life and death, struggling for the breath of life as the noose slowly tightens. When considering the depth of human depravity and the love of a good God, we too ask, “Where is God?” and then see the form of a cross. “He is here, hanging on this tree…”