This week at New Life we are supposed to begin a new series of messages we are calling, "Why We", in an effort to give some context to why we do certain things as a church. I always like asking the "why" questions and maybe, in small ways, helping people come to a greater understanding in the process.
But there are some "why" questions that don't have good answers, aren't there?
Those are the questions that are being asked after explosions ripped into a crowd of people watching marathon runners come to the end of what should have been a triumphant moment in their lives. To put it directly, the question being asked is this: "Why would God allow something like this to happen?"
That's a question that doesn't have a good answer for those of us who believe in a God who is both everlasting in his goodness and unlimited in his power. And for those who don't carry that belief, it can easily become a "gotcha" question to ask when in a debate about the existence of a God who seems either incapable of stopping tragedies or lacking in goodness. In the midst of those kinds of questions, when people of faith and people without faith are both shaking their heads in confusion and disbelief I wonder if we don't lose sight of an important, but difficult, reality.
We are not the point of the story.
All of the goodness we experience in this life – the beauty, the joy of love, the exhiliration of life, the triumphs of the human spirit on an athletic field or a canvas or a stage – these are all derived from the goodness of a Creator who chose to create this world of endless possibility. But they are not the end of the goodness. An athletic achievement or a beautiful sunset cannot fill up the full measure of the goodness that we humans are made to experience. They point to a greater good and a Creator whose goodness infuses this world and gives us the ability to enjoy it.
So what about the pain? The suffering? What about the agony of defeat?
Isn't it possible that those too point to a God who is still good even when our experience is not? When that experience of goodness is interrupted, in the tragic and abrupt way it was yesterday, we may still be able to discern the echo of God's voice. We cry out for justice because when innocent lives are lost we feel, from the depths of our souls that this is unjust. We cry tears of pain because the beauty of a day filled with promise and fulfillment was stained with blood. And beneath the cries and the tears still the longing for goodness survives; the human spirit reaches out for satisfaction that it is not finding in the moment.
There, I would suggest, is where God is in the midst of these tragedies. He is in the gap between what is and what should be. He is the echo of justice and beauty that resounds when the ugliness of human hatred explodes on the street. His voice is the one that still calls out to our hearts, inviting us to find solace in him and with him.
Sometimes there are no good answers, but even then, I choose to believe in a good God. I know that won't be satisfactory for some, and I can certainly understand that. For thousands of years now people like me, listening for the echo of God's voice in suffering, have found that when we're quiet enough, we can still hear him. So let me leave you with the verses I read this morning that reminded me to listen for God's good voice:
"God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling…
Be still, and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:1-3, 10