Why Did This Happen?
The Baptist preacher and writer Calvin Miller tells a story about one of his fellow pastors whose teenage daughter was hit in the face with a softball. The daughter was taken to the hospital in a coma. Her father sat by the hospital bed wondering why his daughter lay there unconscious. He asked himself what God was trying to teach him, how had he not been paying attention to God.
A fellow pastor walked into the room one day and said to the father: “I know why this has happened to your daughter.” The father thought finally someone was going to make sense of this tragedy. The fellow pastor explained: “God has a rule. A softball and a face cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” Sometimes we must accept what seems random and without meaning.
Sunday night in Las Vegas a lone gunman killed at least 59 people and wounded hundreds more. The violence is numbing and the loss unfathomable, and we want to know why he did it. We need some explanation; we want to make some sense of this even if that sense making frightens us.
The shooter is an enigma; we may never know why he did this. We may have to simply accept that. This will never set well with us.
Twice in the Gospels people came to Jesus asking about tragedies. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples came upon a man born blind. This created a problem. If he were born blind, how could his blindness be punishment for sin? Nonetheless, they ask who had sinned, this man or his parents. In the face of misfortune, they needed an answer to make sense of the situation. The answer of Jesus can be taken to mean that God made him blind so that Jesus could heal him. Something important is lost here in translation. The thrust of the response is that the disciples are asking the wrong question. The proper question is how God can use this situation—whatever its origin—to demonstrate mercy. No clear reason is given for the man’s blindness.
In Luke 13 some in the crowd of listeners ask Jesus about the death of some worshippers Pilate slaughtered while they were offering sacrifices. Killed in church--that must mean something. Yet Jesus instructs the questioners to think on their own lives and stop trying to find a reason for tragedy in the life of another. Again, no clear reason is given for the tragedy.
Although people in scripture do sometimes suffer for their sin, the general rule seems to be: God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matt 5:45). In other words, often we can make little sense of life.
The intricacies of theodicy (why does God let bad things happen to good people and why does God let evil people prosper) are far beyond me. I don’t know.
Someone once said that God will have a lot to give account for in the last day. Faith in a loving, merciful God—as demonstrated in Jesus Christ—assures us that on the last day God will be able to give account for all. Until then, as the Apostle Paul wrote: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face [Romans 13:12].”
This does not answer our question “why?” Maybe, often there is no good answer. In the moments when there is no good answer, the strongest faith is forged.
Jim Kelsey—Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State