Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Suffering and Redemption

I’ve always thought that the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” seemed sort of cliché. Not only that, but it’s a question that I can theologically dismiss in about two seconds:

Q. Why do bad things happen to good people?

A. There are no good people. Next question.

Unfortunately, though, that answer doesn’t get rid of the issues of injustice and pain. And these are issues that resurface again and again. The current recession continues to cost hardworking people their livelihoods. A friend of mine recently lost a couple of people close to her in a tragic accident. My sister witnessed the effects of decades of war while teaching in Afghanistan. Our staff and volunteers have seen people dying because of lack of basic medical care in Liberia and Bolivia. I, personally, have been faced over and over again with children begging on the streets of Bolivia and Guatemala.

Especially in this profession, these are issues that I can’t escape from. And, really, none of us can.

Some people buy into “Oprah theology,” as my pastor recently pointed out—they comfort themselves by claiming that everything is supposed to happen, that God planned for these bad things to happen in order to bring about some greater purpose. Others claim that God is powerless to change things—that he hates the tragedies we experience but can’t stop them. Others claim that God is simply cruel, or distant, or nonexistent.

I can’t buy into any of those theories. I can’t believe that God orchestrates evil—and to me there is no question that many things that happen are evil. And I think that the Bible is clear that God is all-powerful, that he has the power to stop bad things from happening, as well as that he is loving and deeply personal.

I could go on writing about this for hours, about how this ultimately comes back to the Fall and to the question of free will, etc, but I don’t have time to write that, and I’m sure you don’t have time to read it. Really, though, I think the key to this issue lies in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). It doesn’t say God causes the pain, just that he uses it for good, and I find this immensely comforting.

In my own life, I’ve found that the main way God uses the evil that I’ve experienced to accomplish good is through other people. It’s amazing to me how He uses such fragile instruments as human beings to redeem suffering—to fight evil, and to replace it with good.

And that’s what we’re trying to do here. We can’t change the histories of the places we work or of the people we work with. We can’t change the fact that war and injustice and natural phenomena have caused untold suffering. But we can let God use us to bring healing and hope. Bad things will continue to happen, but God is good and will redeem our suffering. And I’m willing to bet my life on that.

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