The Lament of Faith...

In the past two weeks we have been dealing with two tragedies as a Church. The first, a 19 year old boy who, while watching Liverpool FC on TV was suddenly taken ill and died within an hour; the second, a mother who was asphyxiated by a fire in her home.

Peter Baker | 10:39, Saturday, 21 January 2011

These and many other examples raise the question, "why?" It's a question that rattles our cages, unnerves us, reminds that we are not invincible; the strongest of lives hangs by the thinnest of threads.

And when we ask, "why?" we're asking for more than a medical explanation. Science may be able to tell us what happened at a biological level to the lad's body, the forensics may indicate what caused the fire, but that’s not what we really mean by the question. 

Actually, some in the scientific community would argue that it's a redundant question because death, like all suffering, is a normal part of a material universe in which entirely random things happen. Some are going to get hurt, they say; and some are going to get lucky, because at rock bottom there's no purpose, no evil, no good. We must learn to live in a closed universe that is deaf to our moral questions, indifferent to our hopes and tears. 

And yet it's my observation that most of us don't think about life that way. We don't live as if the world is random and meaningless, as if events and circumstances, pleasure and pain, life and death, have no ultimate meaning. We are more than machines, DNA carriers.

No, the question, "why?" - the moral, intellectual, emotional struggle to make sense of this tragedy in particular - tells us something profound about our human condition. We reach out for meaning because we are more than collections of atoms and molecules; we are spiritual creatures, admittedly bound by time and our mortality, yet with these incurable questions, these insatiable thirsts…we are religious.

So then if science doesn't have the answer, does religion? It may surprise you when I say "no". Not man-made religion anyway; religion in the institutional, formal sense; the mere rituals of chapel or church religion or any other religious tradition for that matter.

So where do we go to find answers to the ultimate questions of life? For me and millions of others, the most satisfying and honest place to go is to the God revealed to us in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

By the way, faith in Christ doesn't take the question "why?" off the table, it doesn't anaesthetise us to the pain, it doesn't take away the struggle. In fact in a world where bad stuff happens to good people, belief in the power and moral compassion of God can intensify the question.

So what do we have in Christ?  At the cross of Jesus we finally see that God knows about suffering. He gives up His own Son to death. And in the resurrection of Jesus we have the great promise of a new world to come, a creation free from evil, suffering and death.

You see, death shatters our illusion that we can solve every problem ourselves, that we can cope. 21st Century people can easily think they are invincible. But when we have overcome our absence from those we love with Skype, our winglessness with planes, summer heat with air conditioning - when we have overcome all these and much more besides, then there will remain two things with which we must cope: the evil in our hearts and death. Some vainly think that technology will even enable us to overcome the former. But there’s no answer for overcoming death. Death is left for God’s overcoming. And in Christ, God triumphs over the grave and declares in the face of it, hope. Hope for our tears, our suffering, our loneliness, our grief.

We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright; some athletic, some admired.  But we all suffer. For we all prize and love, and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn't be this agony. 

God is love. That is why He suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that He gave up His only Son to suffering. God is suffering love. So suffering is down at the centre of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For love is the meaning. And love suffers. The tears of God are the meaning of history. 

But mystery remains. Why isn't love, without suffering, the meaning of things? Why is suffering love the meaning? 

We do not know, we cannot know, this side of eternity. But we know God by faith in Christ and we know He suffered, died and rose again. That doesn't make our tears unnecessary. Faith provides a pillow upon which they can fall. 

"The tears ... streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested" (Augustine). 

Standing on a hill in Galilee Jesus said to his disciples: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Standing before the graveside of a friend, Jesus wept, but said to the dead man's family: "I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."

Therefore to those who believe in Jesus, death is sleep, and in our grief and tears, with our questions and struggles, we can find hope and comfort, truth and meaning. And we can pray …

Into your tender hands, O merciful Saviour, we commend those whom life has tragically snatched away. Acknowledge, we pray you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your abiding mercy, into the rest of your everlasting peace, into the glorious company of those who dwell in your light. And may your Kingdom of peace come quickly.  

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