Why? That may be one of the more common questions I’ve been asked over the last 8 months since Thomas’ first kidney transplant failed. Why would God allow that? Why would God permit Andy and Heather to think that donating a kidney was his will for them? Why would God not help the doctors understand what the problem could be or is (no conclusive answer has yet been determined)? Why would God let Sarah develop cancer at the same time? Indeed…
As I’ve thought about this, many answers have presented themselves and passed through my mind, but most prevalent among them is a line of thought forged together from bits and pieces borrowed from St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis and a few others.
Writing in the 1940’s, Lewis was faced with the poignant question, why should learning (especially university education) continue during war time? Lewis responded by turning the question back to his interlocutors asking, what has changed? Their complaint was that evil and suffering surrounded them and these two things should change how we live. But, asked Lewis, has the presence and spread of evil not always been real? Has not suffering been part of human experience since Adam and Eve? Instead of reality actually changing, what had changed was people’s relationship to the question of the problem of evil. Once that question was distant and academic (no war in Europe); now it felt all too close and painfully real. When suffering or evil get close, we want answers.
This is where Augustine jumps in. Augustine lived in the 4th & 5th centuries and he wrestled mightily with the presence of evil and suffering. His struggles led him to embrace all kinds of philosophies and religions before he finally found solace in the gospel. This didn’t mean that once Augustine became a Christian he had all the answers; rather, becoming a Christian meant he began to understand how to value answers. Let me explain.
Augustine knew that people everywhere have always sought to know why bad things happen – he did too. But when he discovered the gospel, instead of finding the answer he discovered a response. Instead of finding a God who explained evil to him (the answer), he found a God who took on evil for him (a response). I find one theologian’s reflection on this especially helpful when he says, “Hope is found not in intellectual mastery but in divine solidarity.” The answer to evil, if you will, doesn’t come in words, but in the Word. God doesn’t give us a rationale, he gives us himself.
I don’t know why Andy had to suffer through surgery and lose a perfectly good kidney. I don’t know why Thomas’ body rejected a matching kidney so spectacularly. I don’t know why Sarah had to endure cancer surgeries and treatments while all this was going on. And yet, because God has given us himself in the person of Jesus and the abiding indwelling of his Holy Spirit, I’m not sure I need an answer because a rationale can’t accomplish what God’s presence can.
Not unlike Europeans living over 70 years ago, certain realities of living in a fallen world have drawn uncomfortably close, and that can make those realities appear larger and more compelling. The truth of the matter is, however, that no matter what presses in on us, we can count on the sustaining grace of God’s presence because it has already been proven in the crucible of the crucifixion.
The God who suffered for us is the God who suffers with us.