The recent earthquakes in Haiti bring to the forefront the age-old question the world asks when tragedy strikes: “Why, God?” This question has been asked and will no doubt continue to be asked on this side of heaven whenever and wherever people face such great suffering that cannot be explained. Some are drawn by their own thinking to doubt that God (if he exists at all) is indeed merciful or simply a God of wrath. Even during the time of Jesus, they came to Him asking this very question. In Luke 13:1-9 people came to Jesus concerning the slaughter of some Galileans and those on whom the tower fell in Siloam. Perhaps another question comes to mind along these same lines when tragedy is faced.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This was the premise of a famous book written in the early 1980s by a Jewish rabbi when confronted with the theodicy (why God?) question. Is this really the right question to be asking though? Before one can go any further, one must first consider the implications of these questions. God we know is merciful and just, and we are in fact sinners, so the more Biblical understanding of the rabbi’s question should perhaps be, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
Sin is a very debilitating thing. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, all creation is fallen and corrupted by the wages of that first sin in the garden. We as human beings are most definitely included in this. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). Sin, death, and the power of the devil are ever present in our lives, and we are in bondage to them and turned against God. Because of this, it is no wonder why bad things such as great tragedies and sufferings are constantly around us.
It is because of this sin that our human reason and understanding is tainted and, as a result, we seek to understand and grasp the ways of God. Modern theologians, or those who claim to be, when faced with the tragedies of our time, will often answer in two different ways. One is to excuse God and his rule over creation, saying that God had no part in what happened. The other is to merely confess that God “allowed” an event to happen because of something the people who were affected did. So which one of these is the correct response? The answer is neither. The first response leads to an understanding that God is not in control of His creation, while the other tries to exert human reason and understanding upon God.
God has chosen to make Himself known to us, His people, through His holy word. He reveals to us our sin through His holy and righteous law and our Savior in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ, which is the gospel. Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh (John 1:14) who is the revealing of God. It is here that we see the true will of God in that He desires not the death of the sinner but, out of His grace, gives forgiveness. The things God does not reveal to us are what theologians refer as the Deus abscunditus or the hidden God.
When we search for the hidden God, there is only one destination where we will find ourselves and that is in a place of speculation, doubt, and despair. Searching for the hidden God will never yield for us the mercy and grace of God that has been revealed to us in Christ, but will be the sharp killing sting of the law and its condemnation. Seeking to explain the hidden God is, in fact, an act of self-justification whereby we try to reason the things of God and rationalize them to fit our likings.
So how then would God have His people look at these terrible events in the world? The answer is quite simple and, going back to Luke chapter 13, Jesus gives the answer. He calls us to repentance and faith. We cry out to God in these times of hardship, in great lamentation to God, to be faithful to the promises that He has given us. God calls His people to repent of their sins and look not to themselves, but look outward to the God who is the ruler and sustainer of all things. This is none other than a confession of faith where we seek not the hidden God, but throw ourselves upon the great mercy of the revealed God in Christ who came bearing this suffering for our sake. We cling to Christ who is the only source of hope and righteousness amidst the pain and turmoil of this fallen world.
It is this same love that Christ first showed to us, that we then show toward our neighbors affected by tragedy. The compassion of Christ moves us to care for those who are hurt and suffering and to see in them their value as God’s own precious creation.
“Why God?” This question will continue to be asked until the day comes when all suffering in this world shall cease on the final day when Christ returns. As Christians redeemed by the blood of Christ who is God revealed in the flesh, we see these terrible events and do not ask this question as the world does. When we see tragedy and suffering around us, we see our own frailty and helplessness and, with eyes of God-given repentance and faith, we are drawn outside of ourselves to the God who laid aside His glory in order that we may have life. 1