On Friday as I walked into my wife’s office to say hi, smiling and eager to interrupt her work with a flirtatious moment or two, she swiveled around toward me in her chair and said, “Have you heard about what happened in Connecticut?”
There was shock and hurt in her voice. I knew it was bad, whatever it was. She pointed to her computer screen. I drew in and began to read the words:
“School Shooting: 20 Children and Six Adults Killed”
Sue couldn’t even look at the screen. The very thought of such a horrific act is more than human nature can bear. My stomach was immediately sick. Then I instinctively looked across the room to a framed photo of Mason and Austin, our own little guys, ages five and seven. The feelings of horror compounded within me as my eyes riveted upon their innocent, happy faces. I could almost hear the screaming and wailing of the parents in Connecticut.
There we were, two human beings, happy, upbeat and loving life just moments before, and then, suddenly, by the heinous power of a single evil act, we were drained of joy and thrust into an inescapable combination of sadness and rage.
“Why would anybody do something like this?”
“Why!, Why!, WHY! did it have to happen to children?”
“And why, God, didn’t You do something to stop it from happening?”
We can’t help but cry out—scream out—for answers when evil strikes. It’s reflexive. We don’t formulate these questions; rather they are natural, spontaneous, and immediate, composed of raw emotions and of innately known moral imperatives. We are possessed of a deeply imbedded primal sense of enmity against evil (Genesis 3:15). We know it when we see it, and the fact that we do, barring all other factors of reality, is evidence enough that we hail from a place of high and holy love rather than from a brutal and bloody evolutionary process. The image of God lingers within our fragile, fractured, fomenting souls. Our deep inner psyches, originally synchronized to the image of God, tell us that we were meant to be something so much more than this.
But it is hard sometimes, really hard, to believe in God, hardest of all when the innocent are pounced upon by evil and God seems not to lift a finger to intervene.
And yet, it is even harder not to believe…
because if we respond to evil by casting God out of existence, we necessarily invalidate our moral rage at it. The best the atheist can say in the face of evil is, “There is no such thing as evil. All is natural process, survival of the fittest. Your feelings of moral indignation are delusional. Get over it.”
If God is love, then, of necessity, God suffers with us in every stab and twist of pain we ever feel.
On the other hand, our innate ability to identify evil and our deeply held hatred of it is a strong clue that, indeed, God must exist, else why would we have any moral sense of right against which to know and measure wrong? If we are merely evolving animals on a brutal quest for survival, and if self-preservation is the highest law of life, then any and all moral outrage is at very least irrelevant and at worst a delusional aberration of the evolutionary process.
So then, though it is hard in the face of evil to hold onto faith in a supremely benevolent God, it is the only rational thing to do.
And more than rational, it is the only direction in which illumination and healing can be found… because faith in the existence of a God whose essential character is love grants us the intellectual framework within which we can form emotional responses that defy the evil rather than succumb to it. If we begin with a resting premise of faith that God exists and God is love, then we can legitimately:
- long for and expect the triumph of good over evil,
- hate the evil that confronts us,
- throw our own volitional weight into that ultimate triumph,
- validate the pain and rage of those that suffer,
- and rest in the assurance that all will be made right in the end.
And most importantly, right now, in the throes of all this horror and pain, we can reach out to the heart of the One who, beholding our suffering plight, stood on the edge of eternal bliss and unhesitatingly plunged Himself deep down into our suffering at its most abject and agonizing level.
The cross of Christ stands as a persistent and persuasive witness that God is not aloof from our pain. In fact, by virtue of the combined realities of His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence, God bears in His own heart every moment of pain that afflicts every man, woman, and child.
With penetrating insight, Ellen White lays out the implication of the cross:
“Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him…. As the ‘whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together’ (Romans 8:26, 22), the heart of the infinite Father is pained in sympathy. Our world is a vast lazar house, a scene of misery that we dare not allow even our thoughts to dwell upon. Did we realize it as it is, the burden would be too terrible. Yet God feels it all. In order to destroy sin and its results He gave His best Beloved, and He has put it in our power, through co-operation with Him, to bring this scene of misery to an end” (Education, pp. 263-264).
If God is love, then, of necessity, God suffers with us in every stab and twist of pain we ever feel. And there is immense potential for comfort and healing in knowing that the One in whose image we were originally made, feels all that we feel.
With the suffering of humanity in view, the prophet Isaiah said of God, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).
Discerning that it is in the very nature of God’s love to suffer with those who suffer, Paul said, He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15, KJV).
Grasping God’s acute consciousness of and resonance with our pain, David sang, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book” (Psalm 56:8, NLT).
As you hang your head in your hands, and as the tears trickle down your cheeks, know this with certainty:
“Not a sigh is breathed, not a pain felt, not a grief pierces the soul, but the throb vibrates to the Father’s heart” (The Desire of Ages, p. 356).
Whatever else may be deduced from the biblical declaration that “God is love,” we can be sure of this: He is hurting with us.
Cover photo by Adress Latif/Reuters.