|Surviving Tragedy—Elder Robert Peck|
(From the April 2015 edition of HopeSpeak)
2012 was a heart-rending summer for Colorado. First came the wildfires, which ravaged hundreds of homes. Then came the worst mass shooting in American history—70 people shot by a gunman, 12 of them killed in an Aurora theater, while they watched the midnight showing of a new movie. Many people asked the question, “Why? Why did God allow this?”
The “why” question was especially relevant during the 20th century. Our world witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. The 21st century hasn’t started any better. There was 9/11, the Iraq War, Afghanistan, the Syrian slaughters, and now ISIS beheadings. Why all of this if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The Bible tells us that God originally created a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist. In fact, the narrative says, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) From eternity the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit existed together in a relationship of perfect love. The Bible tells us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Love is the highest value in the universe. When God created humans in His image, He wanted them to experience love. In order to do that, He had to give us free will to decide whether to love or not. Love always involves a choice.
Unfortunately, our first parents abused their free will by rejecting God’s will and walking away from Him. And “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering and tragedy that come because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful and abusive. So scripture says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Even nature itself, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Thorns and thistles have resulted from rebellion and nature waits to have all things set right.
Though God does not cause evil and suffering, He does work to bring good out of evil (Romans 8:28). The Old Testament story of Joseph is a good example. Joseph went through terrible suffering, being sold into slavery by his brothers, unfairly accused of a crime and falsely imprisoned. Finally, after a dozen years, he was placed in a position of authority where he could save his family and thousands of others. One day he said to his brother, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
God is able to use our suffering to draw us to Himself, to mold and sharpen our character, to influence others for Him—He can draw something good from our pain if we will trust Him and follow Him. Jesus said that in Him we will have peace. “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He did the work of redemption His Father gave Him to do (John 17:4). That’s why He is able “to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them..” (Hebrews 7:25)
God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever. Just before us is a world that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
God allowed the writers of scripture to have a big picture of the future that enabled them to see beyond our present suffering. Paul wrote “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) A better day is coming! God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
We decide to exercise our power of choice to become bitter or better because of our pain. We have all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter, to reject God, to become hard and angry and sullen, can cause another person to turn to God, to become more gentle and more loving and more tender, willing to reach out to help other people who are in pain. Some who lose a child to a drunk driver turn inward in chronic rage and never-ending despair; another turns outward to help others by founding Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Jesus offers peace to deal with our present situation and courage to deal with our future (John 16:33). How? Because He has conquered the world through His own suffering and death. He has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you and me. Suffering doesn’t have the last word anymore. Death doesn’t have the last word anymore. God has the last word! And His last word has to do with inheriting eternal life. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. And whosoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17)
Elder Robert Peck serves as Vice President of Administration for the Iowa-Missouri Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served as an active member of the board of directors of The Hope of Survivors since 2012.