Life has its challenges. The big crises can knock us for a loop, making us question God or even our very existence. But even the accumulation of smaller, daily hassles can wear us down. Any form of suffering, large or small, anything that derails us from our taken-for-granted expectations and predictable routines, has the potential to provoke anxiety. Is this the way my life is supposed to be? What is God doing? Is he trying to teach me something? If so, what is it?
As suggested in the last post, a sovereign God certainly has the right to teach us a lesson through any means he sees fit. But I’m reticent to ascribe our suffering too quickly to God, when the Bible gives us a picture of a world already ravaged by sin.
It’s most obvious when someone is the victim of another’s premeditated malice. But the social world is broken in more subtle ways: we suffer one another’s anger and irritability, stupidity and ignorance, carelessness and neglect. The consequences of even small slights can ripple through communities and generations. Thus, we may reap the consequences of our own actions or those of others, and the chain of causes that ends with us may be long, complicated, and practically invisible.
Of course, sin is not the last word. In a broken world in which bad things happen, the cross and resurrection are a sign that God is at work putting things right. The outcome of that work is glorious and sure, but we can’t presume a project completion date. Our calling as Christians is to roll up our sleeves and be part of what is essentially a divine work in progress.
Some find it difficult or impossible to believe that a good, gracious, loving, holy, and all-powerful God would continue to allow evil to exist. Trafficking and terrorism. Schools, shopping malls, and movie theaters turned into killing fields. Global poverty and hunger. If God can do something about it, why doesn’t he?
We feel the force of the question most when confronted with egregious examples of evil and suffering. And we should mourn our brokenness. We should be appalled at injustice. We should want God to do something about it.
But the biblical story that runs from the creation of the world to the creation of the church suggests that God is doing something about it, even if not on our preferred timetable. Why does it seem to be taking so long? It’s impossible to say with full certainty, but one reason has already been given: God in his wisdom has called us to be part of the work.
Maybe it’s a little like parents having children help in the kitchen. It would be more efficient–and neater!–for the parents to do all the work themselves. But there are good reasons for getting the kids involved, for their benefit personally and the good of the family unit as a whole. To share the labor of preparation helps the meal itself to be shared in a deeper way, even if it takes longer to get it to the table.
Here’s the bottom line. We may ask God, “Why aren’t you doing something about suffering and evil?” Part of the his answer might be, “I am. But according to my plan, and on my schedule.” And part of the answer, embedded in what we know of his plan from Scripture, is also, “I’ve given you my Spirit so you can do something about it.”
What might that mean? We’ll start making it more personal in the next post.