In the wake of massive damage and loss of life here in Alabama, I am reminded again of the problem of evil and the problem of suffering. Tornadoes, death, and suffering are a kind of message to all of us, whether we are a Christian or an atheist. They say something about the world in which we live, and if we believe in God they must say something about the God we believe in. Regardless of where we are theologically, disaster and calamity dig deep into our hearts and root up age old questions and quandaries.
There are those, I'm sure, who are convinced atheists due to scientific reason alone. They have been convinced that logic alone should drive everyone to see that there is no God or gods, and that our belief in such is simply what drives us to behave for the propagation of the species. Death by tornado, or famine, or drought, is a random process exactly like the randomness that produced life in the first place. You cannot explain randomness in a big picture way; it simply is. We feel the loss, but even these emotions come from the need to self-preserve. It is natural, and we must cope the best way we know how.
I suspect, however, that at least as many people are atheist and agnostic because of what disaster would imply about a God or a group of gods who would supposedly rule over this world. If there is an omnipotent God who is good, why are children dying of cancer? Why are people starving? From the data, one might well reason that such a God is either not omnipotent or not good. And so goes the old quip about what the atheist really believes, "There is no God, and I hate Him."
I am a convinced Theist, and I believe that there is one God who is both omnipotent and good. I am aware, painfully aware, that there is much suffering in this world. Suffering marks us all. I know that pain and suffering can pull a veil over the eyes with regard to spiritual things, especially regarding an omnipotent God who loves and is good. Pain and suffering are like a stormy night at sea, all stars are obscured, navigation is not possible, and sometimes the best a man can do is batten down the hatches and hope for daylight.
I feel as if unbelief is a kind of blindfold that can ruin a man. It will embitter his soul, and it blinds him from any hope and dooms him to a sort of pessimism that cannot be hidden or squelched. It breeds cynicism. He may be able to see a crack of light from under the veil, just enough to keep his feet moving forward, but it prevents him from seeing that there is, indeed, a real hope and a big picture. This is why, at best, such a man would see me as a naive optimist, or perhaps a weak fool who cannot embrace the reality of this world and so I must embrace fairy tales to survive.
Somehow, it is my prayer that despite the input of pain and suffering, I can patiently, seriously, and steadfastly point to a hope that can bring peace. I am not seeking to give perfect understanding, that is naive. But I am seeking to point to a light in the darkness, a guiding star in the storm.
Some would think it cruel to tell a person who is suffering that God is good, and indeed, it may be presented in such a way. But I think it cruel not to give hope to a man drowning in despair. If there is an empty tomb, if there is a God who resurrects the dead, if there is a God who alone can bring perfect justice, if there is a God who fashioned, formed, and sustains the earth, if there is an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful God who strikes and heals, who brings down and lifts up, who calms the sea and causes it to rage, then I ought to say so. Pain is real, and it is terrible. But the pain that bring darkness can also bring clarity. As the Puritans said, the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.
When I encounter suffering, as I am bound to in the next few weeks, I want to start with the grave of Jesus of Nazareth. I don't want to be cliche, I don't want to be Polyanna, I want to be grave yard serious. Is the tomb empty, or isn't it? If it isn't, then I despair and embrace the darkness that must swallow all. But if it is, if that man Jesus really did shake the earth and rise from the grave, then there is a hope that beats back the darkness, and a dawn that calms the storm.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.