Before you do anything else today, stop to pray. Pray for the election to go smoothly. Pray for your candidates to win, but more importantly, pray for your candidates to be saved. Pray for the Spirit to move in their lives to reveal truth and soften their hearts to be led by God. Pray for God’s will to be done in and through their work of governing, wherever they may serve. Pray that the losers would be gracious in defeat and pray for the winners to be humble in victory. Most importantly, pray for believers to focus their hearts and minds on the mission that God has called each and every one of us to be intimately and actively involved in—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. May we never lose sight of that goal in the midst of political debate and argument.
If God is good, then how come He let Hurricane Sandy smash into the East Coast last week, killing so many people and causing so much destruction and despair? If He is really in control, why would He allow so much suffering? These kinds of questions come up whenever there is a major catastrophe or natural disaster, and reflect the kind of real emotional anguish we experience during such times.
Many theologians have weighed in on this issue over the years. The British author C. S. Lewis famously noted that our very outrage at evil is a sign that we believe in absolute right and wrong; that we are comparing the way things are with the way things should be. But from where do we possibly get an awareness of the way things should be? There has to be a God, because otherwise it would be hard to declare anything objectively good or bad. Without a belief in God, what basis do we have for believing that people should not suffer?
But perhaps a more concrete response to the kind of suffering that tragedies bring into our lives is found in the life of Jesus, and specifically in the final hours before His death. Here we have a record of Jesus, God incarnated in human flesh, suffering incredible pain and anguish.
Then [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39)
The shortest verse in the Bible declares that “Jesus wept” at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But in the moments before His own betrayal He wasn’t just a little bit sad, his soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow.” He was inundated with grief, “to the point of death.” Jesus couldn’t even stand up, but “fell with his face to the ground.” The path ahead for Him made no earthly sense. He knew that He face imminent death; a slow, painful, drawn out death. And even though He knew why this had to happen, and what God would do afterwards, death is still death; something to be avoided at all costs.
There may be an infinite array of causes for our pain, but the suffering we go through, the emotional torture and choking depression, is pretty much universal. And Jesus knows this pain, not just in a vague, abstract kind of way, but in a very real and personal manner.
I will never be able to “solve” the problem of Hurricane Sandy. I don’t know all the specific reasons for why God would allow that to happen or why He would allow so many people to go through this period of suffering. But I am comforted by the fact that God is intimately aware of our pain, and can therefore meet us in the middle of our heartache as a result.
The Bible says of the Messiah:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
Familiar with suffering, doubled over in pain, Jesus turned to His Father for help. May we, too, learn to take our pain to God and trust Him and His perfect plans, even when they don’t seem to make sense.