God and Tragedy – part 2

This year I have the privilege of teaching an apologetics course at a Christian school where I also teach science (“apologetics” is the intellectual defense of the Christian worldview).  This week the students were assigned a music project in which they had to choose a song they liked and analyze the worldview expressed in the lyrics.  A few students volunteered to present and discuss the song they chose in class.  Before we began the presentations one student raised his and raised a rather poignant question:  Why has my uncle, who has cancer, been getting worse since we started praying for him?  His question was addressed briefly, though there was not enough time to give an adequate response.

Later in the class, a student presented a song called “Dear God” by the British New Wave group XTC.  Each verse in the song ironically begin as a prayer (“Dear God…”) and then raises a litany of complaints about all the suffering and injustice in the world, demanding that God give an account.  Each verse ends with the defiant refrain, “I can’t believe in you.”  In other words, the reality of children starving and people being slaughtered in wars justifies unbelief and even hatred of God.

The vitriol this song pours out against God is deeply disturbing, but nonetheless expresses a very real emotion that many have felt in the face of senseless tragedy and suffering.  We should be concerned about the presence of evil in the world and feel visceral anger towards tragedy and injustice.  We should also long for deliverance from evil and hope for a day when all is made right in the world.  But as we cry out to God to do something about the evil in the world, our foremost concern should be the evil within ourselves.  In conversations with skeptics about how evil can exist in a universe created by an all-powerful and good God, I have often asked the question, “Do you also want God to do something about the evil in your own heart?”  In other words, if you want God to get rid of evil of the world then does that include getting rid of you?

The real dilemma about evil, from God’s perspective, is how can he destroy evil without also destroying us.  His response to this dilemma is redemption through the death of His Son on the cross.  For on the cross, God’s just anger toward evil was poured out on His innocent Son.  All the punishment our evil deeds deserve was born by Christ on the cross.   Because Jesus was innocent, his death on the cross was a great injustice:  he suffered unjustly for our sins.  Yet he did so willingly and out of this tragedy came the resurrection through which death itself was defeated and the hope of eternal life opened up.  Thus, God grants forgiveness and escape from the condemnation that we deserve if we repent.  That is why Jesus could say, in the response to tragedy, that “unless you repent you will likewise perish.”

Putting the cross at the center of our thinking about unjust suffering and as the means of our redemption, our response to tragedy should not be anger towards God, but to be angry along with God. Even before his suffering on the cross, Jesus experienced senseless tragedy himself.  One of his dearest friends, Lazarus, died of disease far before his time.  When Jesus got word of his friend’s death, he went to Lazarus’ village where he was buried.  As he approached the mourning family and friends, Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and he weeps (John 11:33-35).  The original Greek captures his emotional state more poignantly.  The word embrimaomai, translated “deeply moved,” literally means “to snort with anger.”  Jesus was infuriated by his friends death, his nostrils flaming with anger.

Jesus shows us in this story how God feels about tragedy.  It is astounding that Jesus feels anger at the death and sorrow here even though he is about to raise Lazarus from the dead and turn everyone’s tears into joy.  I do not know why God allows suffering and evil to continue, but I do know that these things grieve him, even though one day he will make all things new and turn our tears into joy.  And I am thankful that God has provided through the cross a way of destroying evil without also destroying you and me.

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