By Jason Gaboury
Boston, we love you
There is a sheer senselessness in the face of disaster. Why should this happen here, now, in this way?
I’m a marathoner. The vile destructive will to enact violence in this way shakes a menacing finger in the face. Fear. Despair. Meaninglessness. These moods breed in the video replays and the comments online.
In a blog on resurrection it’s important to articulate hope. The hope of the resurrection honors the suffering and tragedy while looking beyond it. The following words are from a sermon addressing tragedy and evil.
~ The Problem ~
Classically, the “problem of evil” is stated as an objection to the power or goodness of God. It’s a statement that basically says, “If God is all good he would not be the source of suffering, evil, disaster. If God is all loving He would want to keep suffering from happening. If God is all-powerful than He can stop it from happening. So, if disaster happens either God isn’t good, loving, or powerful. This problem has been stated this way since the earthquake on All Saint’s day in Lisbon in 1755 challenged the natural theology of the late Renaissance. It’s a good argument. It’s a perfect syllogism. How do we respond?
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Do you see the similarities between Mary’s question to Jesus and the problem of evil? Essentially, Mary is questioning Jesus’ love for her brother. “If you had been here,” she says. There is a subtle criticism here. “Where were you? Why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you stop it from happening?”
Mary’s questions are our questions. I’ve talked with a lot of skeptical people about God. Over and over again, THE reason they choose not to believe isn’t some intellectual hurdle to faith but an existential one. “Where was God when this tragedy occurred? Why didn’t God stop it?”
I want to suggest that God’s solution to the problem of evil isn’t primarily philosophical. There are no easy answers to explain why disasters happen. Easy answers only trivialize suffering. The notion, ‘everything happens for a reason’ doesn’t comfort those dealing with the devastating loss of home or loved ones. The notion, ‘stuff happens, then you die’ trivializes both suffering and delight.
Jesus doesn’t offer Mary an explanation. Jesus simply says, “Where have you laid him?” Jesus goes there, and weeps.
Jesus’ response to disaster is to enter the chaos, experience the loss, and take on the agony, the meaninglessness, the questions, the doubt, and the estrangement. Jesus weeps with us.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is watch my mom die of cancer. I’ll never forget one afternoon as I sat with group of Christian friends who prayed with me. One friend read this scripture. Then another spoke suddenly and authoritatively. “No more words,” he said. And suddenly, a man I didn’t know very well leaned into me, put his head on my shoulder, and just began to weep. In that moment, it was as if the presence of Jesus himself was in the room weeping with me. It was one of the most profound moments of closeness to God I have ever experienced.
~ God’s Power ~
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This passage makes us a little uncomfortable. Its resurrection narrative bucks up against our experience of death. We fear to hope too much in a gospel of resurrection. And yet, here it is, challenging us… daring us… inviting us to trust in God not simply as one who weeps with us in disaster, but God who can make death work backward.
The Christian hope is the hope of the resurrection. We proclaim the mystery of faith, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” To miss the resurrection is to miss out on the hinge on which the Christian faith rests.
Notice that Jesus does not strain to call Lazarus out from the grave. He doesn’t whip everyone into a frenzy of belief, or work some kind of hocus pocus. Jesus simply says, “Lazarus come out.” Death is not the end. Disaster is not the final word. Jesus announces resurrection.
Those of us in recovery know the God of resurrection. We acknowledge, don’t we, that we are dead, lifeless in our ability to cope with addiction? We recognize that our lives are unmanageable and we reach out to some higher power to give us what we need to live addiction free for one more day. Those of us who have known the enslaving power of hate, bitterness, lust, or codependency and have experienced freedom in the gospel know the power of the resurrection.
Resurrection is the power of the Gospel in the face of disaster. Jesus, risen from the dead, is the center of our hope, our spirituality, and our life in community.
~ God’s Promise ~
Finally, we come past the problem, through the power, to the promise God has for us. This promise is captured in this reading from Revelation.
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Contrary to popular belief, the promise of Christianity is not ‘pie in the sky when you die’. We are not promised a disembodied heaven, but a new creation. This creation will be a city in which God will live with his people. Mourning and pain will have passed away. Everything that has come from God (which is everything) will return to God. Beginning and end will come together. God’s plan, which began in a past eternity, will be realized in a future eternity.
The crazy, classic, Christian truth is that it’s this life… this future, with God life, that we are invited to live in the present. It was the vision of a with God life that caused Mother Teresa to care for the dying, Martin Luther to preach grace, Martin de Porres to start an orphanage, Martin Henri to preach to prisoners, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to march on Washington. It was the vision of life with God that inspired Dorothy Day, freed Francis of Assisi, and filled the mouth of Dominc de Guzman. This vision captured John Wesley, motivated John Calvin, mystified John of the Cross, mobilizes John Maxwell, baffled John the Baptist, thrilled John the Apostle, and lives in Jonathan Walton.
It is this vision of life with God that hangs before us this evening. We are not immune to disaster. We will suffer the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Tonight, we are confronted with the problem of suffering. And yet, in the midst of our struggle, present in the darkness, is the presence of the one whose presence comforts us, whose power confronts us, and whose promise compels us into life anew.
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This is a post from Feasting 50, an Easter experiment by friends at All Angels Church. Reposted with permission by author.