Where is God when the world suffers?

The current tragedy in Haiti leads many to ask: Where is God when the world suffers? 

For some, human suffering is evidence that there is no God. For others, it is evidence that God is either aloof (ignoring our suffering) or vengeful (causing it). The truth, revealed to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is this: God cares deeply, and is fully present with us in our suffering.

We learn in Holy Scripture that God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son to become one of us in order suffer and die with us and for us (John 3:16). He did not come among us 2000 years ago, and he is not with us now, as a God of retribution who brings suffering upon his creation (John 3:17). No, the God we know in Jesus came and remains with us as Immanuel - God with us and for us - as one of us. God in the flesh (John 1:14).

Through the Incarnation, the Son of God, in the person of Jesus, took upon himself the fullness of our humanity - with all its sin and suffering. He did so to bring us relief - the deliverance and healing that God alone can bring. He is the God who suffers in order to save. He suffered not only in the hours leading up to and including his crucifixion (a time of terrible suffering and a horrendous death), but all his life was one of suffering. And his life in the flesh continues.

Sadly, some people mistakenly think that following his death and resurrection, Jesus shed his humanity (which is subject to suffering), left the planet, and now in heaven stands aloof from our suffering. But this idea is an error on a couple of points.  First, Jesus did not stop being human. He died a human, was resurrected a human (glorified) and ascended a human.  In his continuing humanity, the man Jesus is in heaven, but in the Spirit, he remains united with us all, and in that union experiences directly all that we experience. He continues suffering with us and for us, working within our suffering humanity to eventually bring complete deliverance and healing. It's a journey, and Jesus is with us every step of the way.

Note what Paul says in Col 1:24: "Now I have joy in my pain because of you, and in my flesh I undergo whatever is still needed to make the sorrows of Christ complete, for the salvation of his body, the church; (BBE, emphasis added).  Jesus sorrows with us, in us and through us - continuing to complete  (NIV says "fill up") his suffering on our behalf.

But you might be asking, "If Jesus is suffering with us, why doesn't he do something?"  The question assumes that Jesus is absent and inactive in the face of our suffering. But that is not the case. Back to the quote from the Apostle Paul above, Jesus is suffering as he shares Paul's suffering in order to serve others who need help.

I believe that Jesus is weeping over and with the suffering people of Haiti (and in all other places). And I believe that in the Spirit, he is present with them, and through caring and compassionate people is reaching out to help - in prayer, in financial assistance, in bringing food, comfort, medical help and the like. If people act out of compassion, they are sharing in Jesus' compassionate heart for suffering people. There is no other source for compassion - we are able to love because God is love and shares himself with us. Scripture says he is sharing himself with all humanity, because he has adopted us all in and through his Son Jesus Christ.
One last point. Jesus is not the caring God who is present with us, while the Father is the aloof, even vengeful God who remains separated from us. As one theologian put it, "there is no other God behind the back of Jesus."

The one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - three divine persons who are of one mind; one heart and one will. In the divine-human person of Jesus, this one God loves us, saves us, and in the Spirit, is fully present with us. In our suffering. And this God is now and always at work to bring us to the new heaven and a new earth in which sorrow and suffering is gone. That is the hope for us all. In the meantime, let us embrace and extend to others the compassion of our suffering God.

If you'd like to help out the people in Haiti in this time of dire need, there are many good relief agencies that can use your help. Within my own tribe, Grace Communion International, we have a disaster relief fund that will be used to help Haitians in the current crisis. You can donate at www.wcg.org/DisasterDonation.asp or mail a check to:
      Disaster Relief Fund
      Grace Communion International
      PO Box 5005
      Glendora, CA 91740

Comments

  1. This is great, Ted, thanks for posting on this subject - I really appreciate the way you tied the ascension and Jesus' ongoing humanity to this critical issue.

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  2. For an interesting perspective on how Jesus is among us in a disaster like this one in Haiti, see the article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34903373/ns/world_news-washington_post/

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  3. In my humble opinion, formed from a pastor’s crucible, the question re suffering in relation to God, is not "Why" nor even "Where". The ultimate question is: "How?" as in "How long, O Lord?" There may be some consolation to know that God suffers with us, but, given the choice, obviously most folks would just rather have an end to the suffering. We pray that MLK was right when, in that inspired speech in Montgomery, he answered the question, "How long?" with "Not long". Of course that was almost forty-five years ago [sigh]. Two thousand years ago, Paul said to live is (to suffer with) Christ, but to die is gain, because – to take Paul out of context – death gets us out of this hellish “meantime” we are in. Or does it? Since Christ now suffers with us, to “be with Christ”, whether in this life or the next (whatever that looks like), means to continue in his sufferings until suffering is no more for all. How long, O Lord?

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