Texas is bearing more than her fair share of heartache and suffering these days.
Just a month or so ago, we watched in horror as Houston was submerged in hurricane flood waters. And now, we mourn with Texans who lost precious loved ones in a senseless act of murderous violence against worshipers gathered at First Baptist Church of Sutherland.
What are we, as Christians, to say to such things? How are we to process and think about such loss of life?
Well, first, we must know what not to say and what not to think. For instance, we must not think what an atheist would think. And we must not say what an atheist would say. Since there is no god, there really cannot be any objective definition of evil. Humans are cosmic accidents. A surprisingly well-organized coagulation of atoms, evolved from lower life forms over billions of years. So, nothing we can do to stop those “lower animal genes” from sometimes expressing themselves. And really no way to place blame. Though Darwinians and atheists might not like to admit it, if they follow their worldview to its logical (or illogical) conclusions, they have nothing of substance to say to grieving Texans right now, except perhaps “better luck next time.”
And we must not say or think what some Eastern religions, or a New-Ager or a Christian Scientist might think and say. All of life is really just an illusion. Pain and suffering aren’t really real. The best you can hope for is to be reabsorbed back into the universe someday where you will be blissfully “non-existent.” This kind of religious non-sense is only more hurtful to the husband mourning the loss of his wife who was pregnant with their first child.
And we must not think or say what a follower of Islam or some warped versions of Christianity might think or say. God is judging Texans for their sin and rebellion. They are only getting what’s coming to them. The Bible Book of Job serves as a massive trumpet blast warning against this very myopic and shallow theological view of the world.
And we must not think or say what some liberal versions of Christianity or Judaism might think or say. God is not sovereign. He’s not actually in control of all things and has to react to these tragedies as best He can. But, have no fear, He’s pretty good at bringing something good out of these messes. Maybe there’s some lesson in it for you Texans?
And we must not think or say what some genuine, well-meaning Christians think or say when they ascribe everything to human free will. God is just letting human freedom run its course. God will not violate or override a person’s will for any reason. Well, mass numbers of Christians believe this, but this theology is not biblical nor is it comforting. If God is sovereign and has all power, why would He not just prevent this act of evil? Does God really value human will / freedom so highly that He prefers to allow mass murders rather than overriding an evil person’s will? Make no mistake, friends, what happened in Sutherland yesterday was not an act of “free” will. Rather, it was an obvious display of the enslaved will of a fallen, lost person living apart from the rescuing grace of Christ.
“He who commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jesus as recorded in John 8:34).
So, what should we Christians think or say? Well the theology of suffering given to us by God in the Bible is actually a complex weaving together of God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s sinful will and man’s accountability before God. Of Divine judgment against mankind’s sin and of mysterious Divine Providence working all things for the good of His chosen, beloved, redeemed people. Of hell deserved by all people and of abundant mercy lavished on undeserving sinners who cry out to Jesus for forgiveness. Of fallen humanity filled with evil and the all-eclipsing glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We dare not approach these terrible events arrogantly, as if we have this all figured out. This was the monumental mistake of Job’s friends! We know so little of how God exercises His sovereign will in this world. We don’t have all the answers we like to think we have. But we know enough of who God has revealed Himself to be in the Person of His Son, Jesus, to sustain us through any crisis.
Jesus addressed such matters directly in Luke 13. Some keen theology students approached Him inquiring about some recent tragedies. Pilate had slaughtered some poor Galileans and spilled their blood on the temple altar. And a tower had fallen on eighteen people in Siloam, killing them. Jesus’ viewpoint is perfect and instructive:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them; do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).
Wow. How humbling. We must have compassion on those suffering, for we are no different than they. No more or less deserving of any good thing from God’s hand than they. All deserving of God’s wrath. All in need of God’s mercy. Truly, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22).
So, while we are still given breath by God, let us renounce our sin and cast ourselves upon the mercy of Jesus the Messiah. And let us pray that suffering Texans will find God true to His promise to be “near the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). And let us trust that Holy Spirit God will, as He comforts those grieving, exalt the Lord Jesus who is a “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). And may more and more Texans come to know and rejoice in the hope that in Christ Jesus, death loses its sting and grief is never hopeless (1 Cor 15:55; 1 Thess 4:13).
This is what we think and say as followers of the Lord. And as we wrap our arms around the suffering, and walk alongside our mourning neighbors, we exclaim through tear-stained eyes with the Apostle John, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)