C. S. Lewis sagely observed, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself. . . . Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that work like machines – would hardly be worth creating.”
Put another way, love cannot be coerced; it must be freely chosen.
Second, we recognize that God created a world that would also cost him dearly, to the point that he had to send his Son to suffer and die that we might live. That was a consequence of his choice to give us freedom of choice.
In the words of Pastor Timothy Keller, “If we again ask the question: ‘Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?’ and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”
That’s why Anglican leader John Stott stated, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.”
Third, we understand that God is not a distant bystander but is himself in agony because of his creation’s agony.
The Scriptures teach that he is hurt by tragedy and suffering, and Jesus was even angered by it. In the words of Isaiah, “In all Israel’s affliction, he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). He may not explain to us all the reasons for our suffering or tell us why he apparently doesn’t intervene more. But this much is sure: He cares deeply and he is suffering with us.
You don’t like the way this world is? God doesn’t either. In fact, he hates certain things that take place, but he is at work for good in the midst of it and, in the end, he will bring something beautiful out of it.
As expressed by quadriplegic Joni Erickson Tada, “God permits what he hates to achieve what he loves.”
Fourth, we realize that only God can bring good out of evil and light out of darkness. He who hurts with us will help us, and the one who understands the depth of human evil is the one who can bring healing and hope.
According to Kitamori, “Those who have beheld the pain of God cease to be loquacious, and open their mouths only by the passion to bear witness to it.”
And so, in the end, we stop talking and we stop writing, and we pray for God to bring beauty out of ashes and life out of death, in this world and in the world to come. Right now, the agony is great.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.