Thought. Light. Dread.
Remembering God in the Presence of Evil.
I recently reached out to a friend who was remembering her brother on the anniversary of his suicide. I was able to sympathize, since I’ve had family members attempt suicide – more than once. Knowing I’m a pastor, she wondered: “After someone dies, people always say ‘they aren’t suffering anymore.’ But is that true? What’s the Bible say about that?” She then apologized for troubling me with this question while I’m on vacation. I assured her that, while I was on vacation from my post at the church, I hadn’t taken leave of theological thinking.
Her question led me down a path of pondering many deep topics: suffering, death, evil, God’s providence, proclamation of faith, Satan, idolatry – to name a few. And in a sea of theological concepts, I landed on two phrases:
“the light shines in the darkness”
“remembering is a deeply spiritual practice.”
There’s a lot of discussion of “evil” on social media these days. Everything from local bigots with their hate-spurred epithets, to toddlers in cages at our southern U.S. borders, to humanitarian crisis in Yemen, to what seems to be an epidemic of suicide. If you’re just scanning news feeds, it might be hard to profess hope; to glimpse the “good news.”
What is the light that shines in the darkness?
Attending to this light is quite a task, for it can seem like merely a flicker, or, at times, completely snuffed out. No wonder remembering is so important. In this practice, we start small – reflecting on our own lives, our own experience of providence and deliverance, our understanding of a good and loving God. Then, we look back even further. As Shirley Guthrie wrote in his theological primer, Christian Doctrine, we look to the hope and memory of Israel. We see God’s preservation not as a happy-clappy sparing of suffering, but sustenance through the travails and oppression, exile and poverty of their predicament. As Christians, we remember Christ who became the victim of evil in order to victor over it (Guthrie, 186).
As for remembering in response to my friend’s provocative question, this has caught me catechizing myself about what I know about God. Here are my conclusions. God is triumphant, not “willing” evil, but not abusing sovereignty in the light of human freedom, either. God is battling an unseen enemy, but in the end, love trumps evil. And our redemption at life’s end means we return to what God meant for us: a beautiful creation, no longer separated by our sin and loneliness, restored and made whole in the fullness of God.
These don't undo what we know about suffering, but perhaps give us a new perspective on what our suffering is. Because sometimes, strange as it seems, suffering connects us to our Creator, who didn’t shy away from our pain, but joined us in it.
What is the light that shines in the darkness? For starters, the light that connects us to one another, through our pain, through our joy, and to our God.