Starting in the Right Place

January 4, 2006

Around noon today I was interviewed by USA Radio regarding the coal mining tragedy in West Virginia. The interviewer wanted to know what I would say if the family members of one of the twelve men who died asked me, “Why did this happen?” My answer would have to be, I don’t know. The Bible offers many perspectives on the suffering we see all around us, but those perspectives are really “meta-answers” that don’t tell us why one man survived while twelve of his friends died. Years ago I decided the proper Christian response depends on a starting in the right place. As long as you start with the tragedy and try to reason you way back to God, you’ll never make it. Your mind is far too small to comprehend the infinite ways of Almighty God. If by reason alone you think you can start with tragedy and find your way back to God, you will be sadly disappointed because you’ll fall off the ladder along the way.
We have to start somewhere else, and the only other place to start is with God. It’s either God or the tragedy. You can’t start anywhere else. Starting with God means that you go back to first principles, to those things you know to be true about God:
He is holy.
He is omnipotent.
He is kind.
He is just.
He is all-wise.
He is eternal.
He makes no mistakes.
He loves you.
He will not needlessly hurt you.
He sees the sparrow that falls from the tree.
He numbers the stars in the sky.
He causes all things to work together for good for those he loves.
He judges sin.
He is God and we are not.
He is faithful even when we are not.
The list could go on and on. If you start with God, you probably still won’t be able to reason your way back to the tragedy in the coal mine. The secret things belong to the Lord our God. When we have done all our theologizing, there remains a vast mystery.
But if starting with God does not provide all the answers (and it doesn’t), at least it provides the only possible framework for understanding.
In the end we can suffer with God.
Or we can suffer without without God.
Those are our only two choices.
I choose to suffer with God because he suffered with us when his Son died on the cross.
This is the heart of the Christian answer to the pain of the world. It’s the reason why we are able to keep believing when we have no answers and the tears will not stop.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?