So. Question. As people with theological education and a view of a God of love, what do we do when things just don’t make sense? What do we do with earthquakes that take so many lives? How do we go about our days and not talk about riots in Baltimore? Why aren’t we communally angered about executions in Bali? What do we do when a 48 year old dies a painful slow death from brain cancer? Or when someone’s grandparents die 6 days before their wedding?
The questions my friend posed are not unlike ones that I have on my mind as well. I knew
we’d have plenty to talk about when we met.
“About your questions,” I began. “What do you believe thinking Christians should make of all these events?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “But I don’t believe God causes all these things.”
I agreed and said so.
She continued. “I do believe God redeems everything, though.”
“Me too,” I said. “The problem is, we don’t always get to see evidence of that redemption. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I believe the arc of redemption is also long, but it bends toward mercy. Still, sometimes redemption seems way too distant.”
We continued talking, seeking understanding. We agreed that while we don’t know what causes natural disasters, we do know that we take the gift of this good earth for granted. We waste resources and fail to appreciate the beauty around us. We can do better. We can all do better.
Injustice abounds: from Baltimore to Bali and beyond. It’s heartbreaking; it’s infuriating. Oppression is not the way of Christ, of this we are certain. But how — in this broken world that rarely resembles the Kingdom — can we as the body of Christ reflect less judgment and more grace, less criticism and more compassion? Our prayer is that God’s Spirit will inhabit our words and actions that we might be instruments of that unfathomable peace in a world churning with bigotry, racism and inequality.
So there’s redemption. There’s taking responsibility for what we ourselves have caused, and changing our behavior accordingly. But what about cancer? What about unexplained death and pain? For me, that’s where the theology gets a little murkier, a little harder to grasp.
I shared with my friend some of the times tragedy has entered my own little world. Like when my niece was born a single twin weighing less than two pounds or when a 3-and-a-half-year-old child I loved died from a rare form of leukemia. Like the time a child on my son’s baseball team died suddenly from meningitis or when my friend’s son died from brain cancer. None of these things make sense. None of them seem compatible with a God of love.
“I’ve learned,” I told her, “that it comes down to the truth found in 1 John 1:5: ‘This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.’”
When I’m surrounded by darkness, I know that to see God, I must look for light. Because in God there is no darkness at all. I look at my beautiful niece who is almost 20 now. I look back through my memories and see the bright smile and hear the sweet laughter of a little boy way too sick to exhibit earthly joy. And I listen to the light-filled testimonies of bereaved mothers, who though they grieve, they still have hope.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t offer my young friend any real answers that day. In fact, she may have left with even more questions than she had before our time together. But I do know that as we grappled with these tough questions of our faith, looking to God and to Holy Scripture for wisdom, we caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And there was no darkness there at all; only light.
*This piece was first published on May 4, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.