The shattering events of 12th October 2002 at Bali and 11th September 2001 in New York will be etched on our minds for a very long time. Press reports screamed ‘It looks like Hollywood but this is real’ in response to the 9/11 event. The French President declared ‘The world is afraid’. Australasians have described the Bali bombing as their 9/11 event.
It’s in responding to events like this that someone spoke for many when he said: ‘I want to sue [God] for negligence, for being asleep at the wheel of the universe.’ At the very least our thinking is given a jolt. However reluctantly, we’re faced up with debating in our own minds ultimate issues like the existence of God.
A possible reaction to these terrible happenings is to say that there can’t possibly be a God. But then, if God doesn’t exist, how come we’ve evolved from molecules to morality? To say this morality is simply the result of our social conditioning only succeeds in pushing the question back one stage. (Where did our parents get their moral values from?) And we are moral beings as shown when, quite instinctively, we react to things that happen calling them ‘good’ or ‘evil’ – but on what basis can we do that if there’s no God? Can words like ‘good’ or ‘evil’ really have an absolute meaning if we don’t believe in God? One bold atheist, Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, would say ‘no’. Since he doesn’t believe in God, he also flatly states that there is ‘no evil and no good’. At least he’s being consistent.
But in that case, suppose we accept there’s no God and basically no ‘good’ or ‘evil’, can we also accept that September 11 and October 12 are just morally meaningless events in a meaningless world? If we feel we can’t go that far, then we’re forced to draw the conclusion that a consistent atheist doesn’t appear to have answers to the questions raised by them. In fact, he or she would seem to have no basis for even asking the questions about the morality of such atrocities. Logically then, evil and suffering would seem only to be issues for people who at least claim to believe in God, for from where else, ultimately, do we get the notion of things being good and just or evil and unjust? It seems the more you think about it, the more the existence of evil in our world points us towards the existence of God – and not away from it. For unless we refuse to brand atrocities as ‘evil’, we’re still faced with the reality of God.
But if God is good, and on the side of good, why do terrible things happen? What’s gone wrong? The Bible’s answer is: we did. The London Times leader column said the day after the March 13 (1996) massacre at an Infant school in Dunblane, Scotland : ‘Christ was born among innocent slaughter and died on the Cross to pay the cost of our terrible freedom – a freedom by which we can do the greatest good or the greatest evil’
We cannot begin to imagine the feelings of the families caught up in these horrific happenings. Counsellors tell us that beyond physical pain, beyond even the sense of unfairness engendered, it’s a sense of God-forsakenness that gives the deepest pain of all. It’s about 2,000 years since the cry rang out from the darkened Cross:
‘My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ (The Gospel by Matthew, chapter 27 & verse 46)
Beyond the bitter agony of perhaps the cruellest form of execution ever devised and the travesty of justice that had taken place that day, the desolation of God-forsakenness was the greater pain of the Crucified.
But what’s the relevance of Christianity to the atrocities of this groaning world? Edward Shillito helpfully wrote, while viewing the destruction of the Great War: ‘to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak’. There’s pain and suffering at the heart of the Christian message, but it’s not only human pain: it’s the pain of God. A question mark over human suffering remains, but we do need to put it in the context of the cross of Christ – the mark of divine suffering. We may have to wait for justice and peace in the world, but we can know God’s forgiveness for our sins on a personal level and be at peace with Him right now. God has done something:
‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (The Gospel by John in the Bible, chapter 3 & verse 16)
God has joined us in suffering to give us the offer of ultimately being with Him in a pain-free future:
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (The Book of the Revelation, chapter 21 & verse 4)