I think perhaps one of the most challenging questions I’ve ever been asked is, “Where is God in suffering?”
Driving home from school today I was waiting at a light and a man was standing on the sidewalk holding a sign that read, “Homeless.” I searched around for a granola bar or apple or anything from my leftover lunch and upon not finding anything, I looked up at him, made eye contact and just smiled. He smiled back and waved and I drove off as the light turned green. Then I proceeded to cry.
Now, I’m not an overly emotional person or huge crier. And I’ve volunteered at soup kitchens and food assistance programs, worked with various organizations addressing homelessness and accessible housing. I’ve even served alongside many people experiencing homelessness, young and old. Though for some reason today, looking this man in the eye really affected me. As I continued on my drive home all teary-eyed, I couldn’t help but think one thing: “why do people have to suffer?”
Today marks the 13th memorial of that horrific day – the tragedy of 9/11 and the terrible terrorist attacks that immensely affected our country. While many of my current students barely remember that day, as they were about 1 and 2 years old, we spent some of class time reflecting on it and the current situation and conflict in Syria and Iraq. My sophomores went through a slideshow I had prepared entitled “Who/What/Where is God?” They each chose two images and reflected on why they were significant to them and how they saw God in the image. Among the images included things like a laughing baby, a sunrise, an empty basketball court, a winding road, the Sacred Heart image of Jesus, an old man, crashing waves, and surely enough… the image posted below of the remains after the towers collapsed. One student chose this image and reflected on it saying, “That was a horrible day, but even through the suffering and despair, God was there.” What hope!
It is in these times of fear, pain, hardship, suffering, chaos that it feels as though God has abandoned us. Where is He? How could He possibly let something as bad as fill-in-the-blank happen? Why do people go without food in a country like the United States? Why are innocent people attacked and brutally murdered? Why are entire cities destroyed by bombings or natural disasters? Why are people persecuted and oppressed for their beliefs?
My honest answer to the question of why people suffer is that I don’t know. I don’t know why there is war and violence and hate. I don’t know why there is discrimination and abuse. I don’t know why natural disasters happen. I don’t know why there is hunger and homelessness, unemployment and disease.
In Social Justice class we began with talking about the biblical foundations of social justice in the Old and New Testaments. We discussed how God’s original plan all along was for the following:
- Humans to share in His divine life (aka human dignity) by virtue of being made in His image and likeness.
- Human beings to be in relationship with God and
- Humans to be communal beings and build communities of love and peace
Does this happen today? Sometimes. But the Fall (Adam and Eve eating the apple and all…), causes a giant break in the relationship between humans, God, and creation. It is the breakdown of God’s original plan for us all. Our human nature has been weakened and our lives are filled with ignorance, suffering, and the temptation to sin.
We are human. We sin. We are greedy and selfish, we crave power and wealth and success and will do anything to get to the top. We think our way is the best way. We are surrounded and plagued by individualism and materialism. We exploit and use each other. We sin. We are humans!!
I don’t know why bad things happen. I only know that even though we are prone to sin and go through pain and suffering, we have a loving and merciful God. A God who created us for something better. Something more.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I pray that we may open our hearts and our minds so that we may see God working in our lives. And I pray that we may have the hope to keep pushing through the pain and suffering towards the Light.