Her chest heaves heavily as she struggles for breath. The horrible virus of AIDS has ravaged her fragile body. She doesn’t know why this fate has become her, but at six-years-old the young African orphan stares up into the stars, wondering if anyone shares in her suffering. Born to a mother who was raped by a father she would never know (the same one who infected both her and her mother), having been raised in abject poverty, often wondering where the next meal would come from, this little girl lays pondering what she did to anger God. She remembers when the white people came just a few months ago. How they would hold her, caress her hair, feed her when she cried out with hunger pains, oh how she missed them. But they were there for a short while, just a week, and then left to go back to their homes in America. The sky grows darker for this little child and her short life draws to a tragic end, as the bright stars stare blankly down upon her.
A thousand miles away a woman stumbles out of the car of her most recent “John.” She came to Hollywood to lead the glamorous life, the life of a Hollywood actress. When she could hardly make the rent, she allowed men to film her having sex with other men. She made money while she could, hoping that eventually she could make a breakthrough at a real movie and leave her self-created nightmare. But it wasn’t long until she was too worn out for films. She turned to the streets where her pimp injected her with drugs, he intentionally hooked her, all so he could use her to keep turning tricks and making him money. She remembers the songs that her father used to sing at church. She remembers the peace and safety of home and longs for it. But she knows there is no forgiveness for a whore and returns to walking her corner, waiting for the next middle-aged man unsatisfied with his life.
A young boy in Indonesia wakes up for his shift at the local factory. A man in Grand Rapids attends to his wife’s hospital bed as cancer eats away at her. A mother and father collapse into each other’s arms as the police tell them of their son’s death in an alcohol related incident. Another man becomes homeless, another husband cheats on his wife, another homosexual teenager contemplates and commits suicide due to bullying, another woman feels she has no hope and has an abortion, another soldier kills an innocent civilian. Around the world lives are ruined, tears are shed, and a cycle of the darkest evil perpetuates itself in our world.
It is fair to ask what God would allow such suffering. How could God stare down at His creation and watch them suffer? Such a question is not without its attempt at an explanation. One theological student will scoff at the question and say, “God allows it for his glory!” He will be satisfied with such a deeply theological answer, even as the orphan dies from AIDS, the theologian will insist that God’s glory is found in the open wounds of a dead orphan. The more philosophically minded theologian will say that God allows evil for a greater good. He will look to the sexually abused child and say, “Don’t worry, God is going to let a greater good come of this” and then offer a brilliant syllogism for the child to follow, all so the child will understand why God allows his father to sexually assault him on a daily basis. But others will not be satisfied with such theodicies. They will tell the suffering that God is weak, that God didn’t know such suffering would occur and that God is powerless to stop such suffering. The only hope for those who suffer, say these modern pseudo-philosophers, is in other people, all the while forgetting that the least of these suffer because of other people. These pseudo-philosophers suck all hope out of the lives of those who suffer.
What God would allow such suffering? We can come up with extremely intellectual replies – replies I myself have used – but how do you tell an abused woman that God is letting her husband beat her so He doesn’t have to contradict free will? Such a God seems cold, without love, and unworthy of worship.
What God would allow such suffering? The answer to this question is found in the cosmic mystery of Jesus Christ, in the Incarnation; the answer to why God allows evil is that He allowed evil to befall Him, to befall His ever-beloved Son, so that healing might be found. Upon the cross all theodicies are broken and laid bear, they are shown to be insufficient for explaining evil and inadequate and conveying God’s love in suffering.
Why would God allow evil? What we do know is that He faced that evil Himself. In the beginning God breathed life into Adam and then watched Adam fall. God witnessed Cain kill his brother. God watched man fall into oblivion and turn their hearts against Him, which only increased their suffering. But God did not view this as a distant observer, as a Deistic fantasy; instead, God took on our flesh and witnessed our suffering through our eyes. He walked our streets, He breathed our air, He ate our food, and He suffered as we suffer. Though God had a purpose for evil, He did not make us face such evil alone, but instead endured the evil Himself.
The god of Islam would not allow evil to befall him. The multiple gods of Greece, or northern Europe, or India are often the causes of evil and indifferent to human suffering. Yet, in Christianity, God comes down with full knowledge that one day His own creation will beat Him and crucify Him. As the soldiers flung the whip at Him during His scourging, He knew the soldiers’ most inner thoughts, for He knew them before they were ever born. The hands that held Him down and nailed Him to the cross were the same hands He formed in the womb; these men who murdered Him were once children He looked over. Christ suffered the ultimate betrayal, but in this He gained victory over death.
He went down into the grave and death swallowed Him up in triumph, but death could not contain Him. Even the blackest darkness cannot contain the faintest light, but Christ is the light from which all light comes. The darkness engulfed Him, but His light broke the darkness so that only He could be seen. These dark chains that attempt to bring us into the grave were broken when Jesus died and then rose from the grave. While God allowed suffering, He did not allow us to wallow in it; Christ died for us and provided a way for healing.
As the dying orphan looks up into the sky as the stars shine upon her, she is ushered into the arms of Christ by a thousand angels. As she peers into his eyes her scars are removed, her sickness is gone, and in death she finds healing, for just as death could not contain Christ, it cannot contain His children either.
As the worn down prostitute is left without hope and feels she cannot be forgiven, but she is looked upon by Christ as a lovely bride. He is more than the tract she has been handed multiple times by Christians who will only deal with this seedy individual in passing; He is grace, He is forgiveness, in His infinite nature her finite sins are forever lost, and He has buried those sins in His death. As He kisses her on her forehead to remind her of what a loving touch feels like, He wipes away her sins and makes her brand new, and He brings her into her new home, one that will not cast her out, but instead a place where she will feel more at home than she ever has anywhere else.
The tears we shed are not shed alone, but are shared with the God of the universe. Jesus looks upon the evil of the world and weeps. He died those many years ago so that we might find a respite from these problems, that while evil might befall us it could not overtake us, that one day as we fall before His feet He may raise us up, embrace us, wipe our tears away, and say, “Never again shall evil come to you, welcome home my child.”