Feeling others’ suffering

It isn’t just global warming that’s raising sea levels it’s the tears of those suffering from senseless acts of terrorism. And the terrorist acts keep piling up, to the point they become mind-numbing. “Not more utter stupidity,” I hear myself say at the latest act of insanity, and I simply want to turn it off in my head and not think about it.

And in one way I suppose my tuning out can be justified, because I can’t carry the world’s suffering on my shoulders; it will kill me too. I can’t do anything about what’s happening, either. I can’t step inside the heads of terrorists to understand why they do what they do, nor can I stop them doing what they do. I am utterly powerless to either change a terrorist’s mind or stop him before he acts. And up to this point it seems nobody can figure out what makes ordinary people do terrible things, nor can we come up with any way of protecting the innocent from people who just decide to crash their vehicles into pedestrians.

I can understand people saying, “My God, why is he letting this happen?” Does God have no feeling for those suffering as well? Could he not stop a terrorist act from happening? Well, yes, he could, but he chose another route. He let us make our own choices, and he allowed us to shape the world the way we wanted, knowing it wouldn’t work. It’s like parents letting their kids do what they must, knowing it’s going to end up in tears, but for humans it seems this is the only way we learn.

But like parents, God suffers when his children jump the rails. We know he does, because he showed us. It was all there in Jesus on the cross, who was up there to feel every bit of what it’s like as an innocent man to suffer. A terrorist act was done on him by uncaring, brutal people who cared for nothing but themselves. And he allowed them to do it to him, so he’d know what it was like to be human and suffer from senseless acts by insane people.

He cried the same cry we cry when awful things happen: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why are you letting this happen to me? Why? I’m innocent. Why are you letting evil people destroy good people?

But that was the moment God’s Kingdom began. It only began when God felt our suffering to the core. It’s on that cross, therefore, that we have our guarantee that God feels for our suffering and he will end it.


Why does God allow accidents, disasters and terrorist attacks?

Why does God allow horrible things to happen to us, when Christ “died for the ungodly,” Romans 5:6, to save us? The answer is in why Christ died for us (same verse); it’s because “we were still powerless.”

Humans are powerless? That’s not what we want to hear. It’s the last thing we want to hear, because we think we’re invincible. There’s no challenge we can’t meet with human initiative and human spirit. Horrible disasters, and terrible terrorist attacks? We’ll pull through. We’ll rebuild. We’ll survive.

But God made it plain to us, right from the time he created humans, that we are powerless. Adam and Eve, for instance, didn’t have it in them to avoid the fruit that would kill them. But when they died, just as God said they would, did their death shake the world to its senses that God really meant death, and maybe it ought to take God seriously? No, it didn’t. People just carried on as though death wouldn’t happen to them, much like people rush off to war thinking they’re somehow immune to being killed, or that death really isn’t all that bad if it’s for a right cause.

We’ve clearly got a problem, then. Not only are we blind to the horror of death and the choices we make that cause it, we have also conclusively proved after years of dismal human history that we have no idea how to avoid accidents, prevent natural disasters or stop people killing each other. We even believe we can do what we like to our bodies and minds and there won’t be consequences.

And why is that? Because we fall for the same lie over and over again that the serpent told to Adam and Eve, that we are gods (Genesis 3:5), that we’re above the laws of the universe, and way above having to listen to what God has to say, and so we carry on doing what humans have always done; we live, we die, sometimes horribly or wastefully, and we are utterly powerless in reversing the process that has ruled humanity since our history began.

So what does God do to wake us up to that reality? Well, to start with, he gets the point across that it took Christ’s death to stop us annihilating ourselves all together. He also subjects us to a world we cannot cure (Romans 8:20). Again and again, then, things happen to us that we cannot prevent, including automatic penalties God designed for those who resist him (Romans 1:24-32). And then he waits patiently for all this to sink in, so we see the folly of our ways and repent.

What kind of God would allow THAT to happen?

You’ve been waxing eloquent to a person about God’s goodness, but then, next morning, he turns on his TV and out blasts the latest news of a massive earthquake stirring a gigantic tsunami that thunders across a populated area destroying everything in its wake. His jaw drops at the scale of destruction, and he’s on the phone to you yelling, “What kind of God would allow THAT to happen?”

“You told me,” he continues, “that God is in control of everything that happens on this planet, and he’s a God of love, mercy, compassion and kindness. You also told me of the amazing things God has done in your life and how blessed you are, and how God forgives, holds none of our sins against us, and takes no pleasure in punishing us. So why is he punishing people so horribly?”

“And what was the point,” he shouts, “of God creating tectonic plates in the first place, when it was obvious, surely, that they pose an enormous danger to human life and property? And why put the lives of children, good people and Christians at risk too? And why, if humans in the earthquake zone needed a wake up call, didn’t God send prophets to warn them as to what was about to happen and why, so they could repent and God would reverse the threat, just like he did in Nineveh? And why would God allow disasters, accidents and terrorist attacks to happen at all when they’re only going to create negative reactions toward him and even cause people to curse him for what’s happened, like I’m tempted to do? And since you’re always going on about the Christian message being good news, I’d like to know where you find good news in all this awful stuff happening.”

And as he’s yelling you think of 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the HOPE that you have.” But what reason can you possibly give for hope in a terrible disaster, accident or terrorist attack that wipes out Christians and non-Christians alike, and shows no mercy to the good and innocent?

Peter’s answer in verse 15? “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord,” and stick like glue to verse 22, that Christ “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him,” and somehow, miraculously and unexplainably, that is the key; that’s when hope, despite what’s happening in the world, comes. And all you can do is offer that to the person and let God take it from there.