One day Jesus asked about a group of Galileans who were slaughtered with their sacrifices by the Roman governor, Pilate. Then he brought up a disaster where eighteen died when a tower collapsed in Siloam. Were these disaster victims worse sinners than those who were spared? Jesus answered his own question with a “no” (Luke 13:1-5). It was the same answer he’d given when his disciples inquired of a man blind from birth. Had the man or his parents sinned? “Neither,” Jesus told them. (see John 9:1-3)
Jesus’ words are unexpected. Most people want to believe that by behaving well as opposed to badly they have so
me control over the outco me of their lives. Instead, Jesus teaches that events are not necessarily the consequence of our own good or bad behavior. God has many reasons for why things happen: not just our goodness or badness. The world—and God’s purposes—are a bit more complex than we’d care to imagine.
On any given morning a whole lot of people will get up and eat their breakfasts. So
me will kiss their spouses and head off to work. So me will beat their spouses. So me will beat their kids. There will be people who get up, take a deep breath, shower and then go out and murder so meone, or have an affair, or embezzle money, or lie. On any given morning there are those who have been up all night drinking and using drugs and having unprotected sex with people they aren’t married to. Some human beings are good. So me are bad.
But three thousand people out of the six billion on planet Earth one bright September morning went to work like they always did, but they never ca
me ho me again. Terrorists chose to fly airplanes into their workplaces that particular day. Were they greater sinners than all the other people on the planet?
Bad things can happen without warning and without reason and it isn’t because God is mad at you or loves you less than those who didn’t suffer that day.
When you’re driving down the freeway and traffic slows in front of you and you put on your brakes to stop, is it your fault when the person behind you doesn’t and plows into the back of your car? Of course not. You may drive carefully. That doesn’t make your neighbor drive carefully. Were you a worse sinner than the driver in the lane next to you who went on unscathed? How about that crack dealer who was beating up his girl friend a block away?
According to Christian belief, Jesus left a perfect environment, absolute control, infinite knowledge and experience, to become a baby, born in a stable, growing up in a dirty, pre-industrial society, leading a handful of men in long walks about a rather hilly country, doing good, only to be betrayed by one of his best friends and executed in one of the most painful ways imaginable. He had a really bad day. But Christians will argue for the enormous benefit that his suffering produced. We claim it was worth it to him.
In January 1998 our foster baby boy died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Why? Why did we then have to endure a 31 million dollar wrongful death lawsuit by the biological parents? Although the case was dismissed after three years, it still cost us a lot of money and stress. What was the point of it all?
Obviously, the point was not the suffering; suffering is not an end unto itself. No trial seems pleasant while it is going on. A seed doesn't bear fruit unless it falls to the ground and dies. Yada yada. I can think of quite a number of applicable Bible verses but none answer the “why” question or really make my pain any less.
But if I cannot see a good reason for my past suffering, does that mean there wasn't one?
Many artists, poets, writers and musicians had unhappy lives. Many were emotionally and mentally unstable. But would the world be a better place had Beethoven not grown deaf? Should Mozart be granted a longer life, financial stability and good health? Or was their misery worth it for the great, enormous blessing their art has been to humanity?
Many times I have questioned the choices that have led me to today. Thankfully, questioning the choices of my life does not give me any chance to change them. Without a time machine, I am not granted the opportunity for making different decisions and playing them out.
I have come to believe that different choices would invariably have led to worse outcomes. Assuming that God loves us and that he knows everything, I have decided that any alternate scenario would have to actually be worse than whatever horrible thing happened, because if things could have been better with different outcomes, then God is evil. I do not believe that a good, loving and all powerful deity would select the most painful, the most vile of the alternative possibilities to became reality. I do, in fact, believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. I do not accept the possibility that the universe is just a random act, or that my life is without purpose or goal. I think God knows what he's doing.
“This is the best of all possible worlds” is a statement which on the surface seems almost obscene in the face of the Nazi Holocaust or the intermittent misery of an individual life. And yet, I embrace it, because I think it is a greater obscenity to suggest that God doesn't love me, or that he doesn't know what he's doing, or that he doesn't have the strength to do anything, or that he simply doesn't care. Even worse, would be to suggest that Hitler was right and that God simply is not. If there is no God, then why should we have the sense that suffering is bad, or that there is even such a thing as evil? Where does our concept of what is right, and just and fair come from then? Why do we always seem shocked when something bad happens?
But do we tell a father when he holds his dead baby in his arms that this is the best of all possible worlds?
Well, that is what I told myself.
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)