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God and suffering
September 22, 2015
by Pastor Mike Nelson, North Crow River and Grace Lutheran Parish

It seems to me that we have seen more incidents in the news of late.

Whether it be local, national, or international, people have experienced unexplainable misfortune or suffering.

Persons struck with rare catastrophic illnesses, persons gone missing, entire towns being obliterated by tornados, fires, or floods, beheadings of non-combatants, epidemics killing thousands, and missile and artillery bombardments killing innocent children and other civilians are just some of the tragic incidents we have seen of late.

When such things happen, people often ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about these heart rending events?”

German theologian Jurgen Moltmann observed, “Meaningless, endless suffering, suffering with no way out, makes people cry out for God and despair of God.”

He observed that, “Faith in God and atheism both have their deepest roots in pain like this.

‘If there is a God, why all this suffering?’ asks the one. ‘If only there is no God, then there is no problem,’ says the other.”

Moltmann remembers his own experience of having his home city of Hamburg bombed by the Allies during World War II, when he lay under the hail of bombs that annihilated 80,000 people in a storm of fire. He lost many friends and neighbors.

He wrote, “I lived, and I still don’t know today why I am not dead too, like my companions.”

But in reminiscing on that episode of his life Moltmann recalls, “In that hell, I didn’t ask: why does God let this happen? My question was: where is God? Is he far away from us? An absentee God in his own heaven? Or is he a sufferer among the sufferers? Do our sufferings cut him to the heart too?”

We can try to justify God for letting bad happen, or we can use the event to look for God’s companionship with humanity, even in the midst of tragedy.

The first approach assumes that God is apathetic to our human predicament.

The second approach looks for a God who suffers along with us.

About 25 years ago, Joyce Rupp, OSM, wrote about what she called “creative suffering” in a book titled, “Praying Our Goodbyes”.

“Suffering, in itself, has no value,” she said. “It is what we do with our suf-fering that makes the difference.”

She suggests that rather than asking God, “why is this bad thing happening?”, a more helpful approach might be to pray. “God, show me how this bad thing can be used for good,” and then look for a way that this happening can arouse a sleeping energy within us, or can reveal more about life’s purpose for our lives, or how it can give us a stronger sense of compassion for others.

In Rupp’s words, “Moments of suffering, times of good-bye can cause us to peer inside our own tombs of unfinishedness or incompleteness and we can discover vast storehouses of resiliency, vitality, fidelity, love, and endurance.”

I think that if we search, we can discover God’s compassionate presence, even in the most tragic of human circumstances.


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