- “God spared my life for a purpose.” A number of times after tragedies, including 9/11 and last week’s horrible event, I have heard a Christian who survived when the odds were against them imply that God spared them for “a reason.” Yet, others were not spared. This speculative reason usually has to do with them being used by God in some way in the future if not in the immediate future. To me, it is an arrogant statement (usually unintended) that reveals a far too often sentiment that “we” are somehow more valuable than “they.” It is a horrible explanation for the outcome of the situation and if your loved one had died in the same incident, you wouldn’t want someone else personally claiming God’s good grace, thus unintentionally implying that your loved one had less purpose or their purpose was already used up.
- “This evil was done by man’s choice and not God’s.” Indeed, many tragedies can be traced easily back to the conscious choices of humans. Even things like cancer can at times be traced back to specific man made toxin as the root cause—think cigarettes. Starvation can many times be tracked back to the greed of some human beings taking for themselves and leaving virtually nothing for a whole class of people. The problem I have is when we act like this statement, “This evil was done by man’s choice and not God’s.”, ends the discussion of why this happened. We claim some people are “healed” miraculously and instantly by God of their cancer. “Even the doctors have no other explanation” we proclaim. So then why did God heal this person of cancer when so many others (including Christians who prayed just as hard) died from it? “Well,” we suppose, “God must have had a plan for you.” Then we are back to point number one. Just because an evil act was clearly the choice of a man or group of men, the problem of suffering is not answered. The discussion remains open and we still have questions of God.
- Quoting verses that talk about God rescuing and saving (implying yourself) when some others were clearly not rescued or saved. It may make you “feel closer to God” and it may encourage the faith of the living, but the loved ones of the dead are not comforted.
- “God will bring good out of it.” My thought on this is don’t say it too soon if you need to even say it at all. God may indeed bring good out of it, but I wouldn’t want to hear that if my child died. I would think “Well why doesn’t He bring good out of it by bringing my child back?” to which some good intentioned person might respond “It was man’s evil that did this and not God.” Then I would say “Well then why didn’t God step in and prevent that act or heal my child like we claim He does in so many other situations?” This discussion would end with “God has a purpose in everything” or even worse “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” The prospect of beauty doesn’t negate the reality of tragedy and while most of us will readily admit that, we would do well to be quiet instead of trying to bandage a tragedy with “God will bring good out of it.” It is like a flower growing over a grave. It is beautiful, but its’ roots are still buried in the dry patch of tragedy.
The problem of pain and suffering is big, complicated and one that is ancient. It can cause a questioning of faith, a shifting or restructuring of faith, and even a complete letting go of faith. We should be open and authentic in our struggle with this intensely emotional and puzzling reality of suffering. Some Christians fear that if their faith seems less than “bullet proof” they will in some way damage the faith of others. I believe the opposite is true: that bravado is less uniting then uncertainty.
Now I Lay Me Down, by W.R.R., on why you shouldn’t tell survivors of childhood sexual abuse that they must accept God in order to heal or find peace.
Image of the scene of the Christian sculpture Mikeliandzhelo courtesy of Shutterstock