READ: John 11
THINK: I have been searching all day for the right words. I sit here now – thinking about the events in Newtown, Connecticut – looking at my computer screen through red, tear-soaked eyes. Our world is so broken. It is a place where the young and the weak and the innocent are too often made to suffer. And in times where we witness such suffering acutely, we all wonder why God allows it. There is no simple answer to this question. If there were, we would know it already. Our sin and rejection of him is at the root of it all, and we know that if God did away with all evil and oppression, all injustice and violence then he would, out of necessity, have to do away with all of us because those things are so powerfully a part of who we are. But that doesn’t fully explain why God doesn’t stop things like this. We will never fully understand why a loving God allows evil and suffering in our world. But we can know one thing with absolute certainty: it is not because he doesn’t care. As I watched the coverage of Newtown I was reminded of the words of Dr. Tim Keller, a pastor from Manhattan, after the attacks of 9-11:
“One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.
But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: ‘I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?’ Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.
And this is key: It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.
And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake…[They]… will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!”
In times like this we know that there is a God who draws near to Newtown even now. And he is not a distant God. He is the suffering God! He the God who so loves and so cares that he walks in our pain with us. And he not only walks with us, but we see in John 11 that he even weeps with us. He feels, and he loves, and he heals, and he saves in a way that no one else can. He is the hope that our world is desperate for in these dark days. He is the only real hope that we have. But what an incredible hope he is! Resurrection. Restoration. All things made new. Life everlasting. The taste of eternity is the only antidote to the bitter taste of our shattered world.
PRAY: Pray for Newtown. Pray for our nation. Pray for our world. Specifically, pray that people would find Christ through this tragedy because, truly, there isn’t anywhere else where they can find the hope and the healing they need. Also, I’d really encourage you to take 6 minutes and pray/sing along to this song (lyrics here). Take time to thank God for being so preposterously loving that he stepped in to our suffering. Thank him for not forsaking us for one single moment! It is so humbling and shattering and overwhelming to know that God never forsakes us – and to remember all the times when he has loved us and wept with us and carried us in our pain.