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On the 11th of this month, we experienced the twenty-year anniversary of the shocking, wicked terror attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and a plane flying over Shanksville, PA. On that day, the America we knew ended. The country has changed many times in two decades since; life today is so different from the way we were raised. But human nature is the same, and a constant for us is trying to understand why we have to endure evil events under the watchful eyes of a good and loving God. Just a month after the 9/11 attacks, I submitted an article to the local newspaper for Greenville, Illinois. To commemorate the somber 20th anniversary of that terrible day, I thought I would reprint that article here, edited slightly to make sense today. Though twenty years has passed, the underlying question still haunts us, on the global, national, and personal scales. Personal loss has wounded some of our church family in the last months, and I hope that the following article brings some peace to them as well.
Why?…How? The heart-wrenching tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania sent ripples of pain and shock across our nation. The unprecedented assault on American soil–an assault on our very freedoms and way of life–has been a rude awakening to say the least. We find we’re not as invulnerable as we thought, and this has changed the way we view life. Even more, the magnitude of human loss has overwhelmed us with sorrow. How could such evil have taken place? Why does such tragedy and pain pierce the human race? And there is always the question: How could a loving God allow evil people to inflict such pain on us?
My shelves are stocked with very large books, several of which deal with this question. The problems of evil and pain have been studied through the centuries by people far more intelligent than I. I could walk you through their arguments if you wish. Some very good explanations have been proposed. Unfortunately, many of those explanations are technical and dry. And to be perfectly frank, I’m not sure it helps all that much to be able to explain it. When we experience pain, an intellectual treatise on the cause of our sorrow rubs salt in the wound rather than giving comfort. If we are able to explain away a person’s pain, the subliminal message is that the person should stop feeling so badly. For example, I’m a quintessential husband–I love to fix things. When my wife is having a bad or an emotional day, my first thought is to come up with some way to explain everything. All too often I’ve constructed a water-tight argument to objectify the problem, and I have failed my wife. For she was not seeking philosophy from me–she was seeking comfort.
I’m slowly getting better about this, and so I won’t clutter your mind with erudite rationalizations of the pain and sorrow we have faced. What I will offer is a little comfort. And I would like to do that by sharing a story. In the Bible, John chapter eleven tells us of a man named Lazarus. He, and his sisters Mary and Martha, were cherished friends of Jesus. Pain struck Mary and Martha when Lazarus became terminally ill, and they sent for Jesus to come and heal him. By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had been dead four days. He found Mary and Martha in bitter grief. If only Jesus had come sooner, they cried, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.
Our cinema has stereotyped Jesus as being somewhat unemotional, sort of like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. So, many might expect that Jesus would have launched into a huge explanation of why death is inevitable and so we should not be upset by it. Or that we are a sinful race, and so we should not be surprised by pain. These points may be the truth, but they don’t help much in dealing with the grief.
Thank goodness, Jesus is nothing like Mr. Spock. He didn’t explain. He cried.
He saw the hurt of Mary and Martha–He felt the loss of such a dear friend as Lazarus–and He was overcome with grief. He went right on to raise Lazarus from the grave, so you might think that Jesus would have said, “Don’t cry! I’m going to fix this problem! I’ll make it go away!” That isn’t what He did. He brought Lazarus back to life, but first He took the time to grieve. So here we have the Son of God, not standing above our pain and problems, but entering into them and hurting with us.
Here is an image of Jesus that maybe hasn’t occurred to you before, but one I’d like for you to consider. It is an image of the Son of God who knows our pain and feels it with us. He knows our weakness and sorrow. He is not aloof from it, because He has experienced it Himself. This is the amazing truth of the Scriptures, that God the Son became a human being to live among us and to experience our wretched weakness for Himself. He suffered just as we do, even suffering a cruel death in spite of His innocence. He has been hurt, rejected, betrayed, grief-stricken, and killed. Yet He rose from the dead physically, and He was taken into heaven where now He cares for us and hears our heartfelt prayers. So many times while on earth, our pain and brokenness filled Him with compassion. It is the same even now. When pain cuts our hearts–when death or loss reduce us to emotional rubble–I believe that Jesus hurts and weeps with us.
The comfort I offer is much more amazing this, however. Not only does Jesus grieve with our hurts–He heals us. Jesus didn’t just stand and cry with Mary and Martha. He called Lazarus out of the grave. The blind, the lame, the deaf, and the demon-possessed came to Him. He was overwhelmed with compassion for them, but He moved beyond compassion to healing. The most powerful healing comes from He who has also been stricken with pain. Jesus doesn’t just heal the problem–He heals the heart and soul.
In this time of sorrow and uncertainty, please remember that Jesus is not aloof from our suffering. Just as our hearts were pierced when thousands of innocents lost their lives, Jesus’ heart was dealt a huge blow of pain, too. He knows what it’s like for an innocent person to be killed, and He doesn’t want that for anyone. So He grieves with us, but He is also hard at work healing us. I pray you’ll open yourself to His comfort and healing today.
Your Brother and Servant,