No Explanation is Adequate

Our local newspaper was full of sympathetic coverage of the death of a sixteen-year-old football player. Peter Webb died after sustaining head trauma during a game with his Christian school team on September 13. At his funeral, he was eulogized as enthusiastic, confident, athletic, and devoted to Jesus Christ.

His father, Jim, and his four brothers showed uncommon courage as they each rose to speak in Peter’s honor before over two thousand guests in attendance.  Several high school football teams came and they heard Peter’s dad speak of the intense pain the family felt because of the loss of their son and brother.

No doubt the young men on those teams and Peter’s fellow students have been struggling with the same questions most people ask in similar situations. Couldn’t God have prevented Peter from dying? if so why didn’t he? If God is good, why does he allow evil to exist? If he is all-powerful, why doesn’t he bring an end to human suffering?

These profound questions cannot be answered with glib cliches. The emotional suffering of the Webb family cannot be healed by philosophical band-aids or sentimental pieties. As a sorrowing C.S. Lewis put it in A Grief Observed, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

Where is God?

“Where was your God when my son was killed?” a grieving father asked John Claypool. “He was where he was when his own boy was being killed,” came the answer. What the wise pastor was saying is that God entered, and enters, human suffering in the incarnation of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Consolation in such a time is not to be found in platitudes, but in presence, the presence of a compassionate God who said he would be “near” (Philippians 4:5) and in the supportive presence of friends who quietly care and serve in his name.

But this does not answer the question “why?” Rational explanations are cold comfort to those in sorrow. But for those who are attempting to understand the mysterious ways of God it may be useful to recall that God is good and evil did not originate with him. He made the world good and part of that good was to allow for the possibility of human choices.

All choices involve risks and consequences, including the risk of brain trauma from a football injury. Was Peter Webb’s death untimely? terrible? tragic? Certainly. All sports, including American football, pale in comparison to the value of such a precious human life.  Yet young men are drawn to challenge, risk and conquest. “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29).

A good purpose

Was his death purposeful? The Christian answer is an unequivocal “yes!” God was not defeated when that beautiful young man died. Somehow in the sovereign wisdom of the Creator, a good purpose is being fulfilled. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Examples are found throughout scripture to illustrate how God uses human suffering to accomplish his purposes. The story of Joseph’s sufferings is such a lesson. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,” he told his brothers in Genesis 50:20.  The sufferings of Joseph were purposeful. The Babylonian captivity of the Jews was purposeful (Jeremiah 20-29). The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was purposeful (Acts 2:23). Nothing is outside of God’s purpose.

Likewise, the New Testament teaches us that God sometimes uses human suffering to humble his people (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Sometimes it is to correct and purify his people (Hebrews 12:6, 11). Sometimes no explanation is given. Sometimes our only response is to lament, as Jeremiah does, as Job does, as Habakkuk does, as Asaph does in Psalm 73.

These facts alone do not lift the emotional burden of overwhelming pain and loss borne by a grieving family. The fact is, we are not always given emotionally satisfying answers to why there is undeserved suffering in this world.

God will win

The Christian message promises God’s ultimate victory over evil. In the meantime, we live in a world where danger, evil and suffering remain for the present. But this imperfect world is preparing us for the next. I paraphrase Winfried Corduan who reminds us that God is able to use evil to facilitate the coming of that better world. He writes, there can be no pity without suffering. There can be no redemption without sin. There can be no courage without danger. There can be no resurrection without death.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring