When tragedy or heartbreak or a crisis strikes, “I didn’t think it would happen to me,” is a natural reaction. I once knew a colleague who after making some drastic changes toward a healthier, more sustainable life style was told he had inoperable cancer. Over his long career as a pastor he had been with many people as they received the same news many times. Still when he told me the news, he looked like he was in shock as he said, “Why me! I’ve done everything right!”
Very bad things happen to very good people for no good reason. Hurricanes blow… rain pours…cars hit slick spots…cancer comes back…And although most of the time most of us escape the truly tragic and find courage in the thought that others have it worst than we do…there are other times when the tragedy or accident or test results are as bad as anything we imaged we could experience. And deep down when nobody is listening, the question is often the same as my friend’s… “Why, God? Why me?” And the question that often follows that I hear is… “How am I going to get through this?”
I don’t know how those whose lives have been forever altered by Harvey are going to get through this anymore than I know how people live with the pain of a tragic loss or the news of having very limited time left in this life. I have observed a couple of things that I think are worth telling today.
First, the biggest challenges of our lives are an opportunity for the best we have within us to come forward. I know this sounds a bit optimistic at best. But I will tell you this… in my experience I have visited with so many people who when faced with the most difficult time of their lives… found something within them they did not know was there before. Things like: courage, faith, perspective, trust are surprisingly available.
Second, we do not need to face these experiences alone. These times bring out the best in people…people we know and people we don’t. Notice how in all the stories from the flooding in Texas we don’t hear that the person wading in the water was black or that the pilot of the rescue helicopter was Hispanic or the woman on the rooftop was white. Tragedy and a common cause bring people together. In a moment of crisis… most of us want to do the right thing… we want to put our boat in the water…we want to put our phone down and listen to the news… we want to write the check…
…And finally for today, there are many Christian responses to the question of suffering… I believe two things. First, suffering is a part of our human experience…God does not cause hurricanes and accidents and cancer as a way of judging us or testing us. We suffer because we love. But suffering can be redemptive. By this I don’t mean that there are reasons or hidden purpose for our suffering. I do mean that something of a fuller, a better life can come out of suffering. Better emergency plans can be developed… We can show our children how to face death… People remember that the face of the one who saved their baby was different in color.
Second, our suffering is also a place we meet God. In part because when we are not in control of life, when we are vulnerable, we recognize God’s presences more fully. But mostly because I believe it is in the suffering of the world that God is most often to be found. That is the message of the cross… God does not prevent or cause suffering… but God suffers with us. And God comforts and responds. I find great solace, courage and inspiration in the belief that when something I didn’t think would ever happen to me, happens to me…that it is also a place God is present.
Keep the Faith,