I love Easter! I love the flowers and trees coming into bloom. I love the sunshine and the return of warmer air. I love the signs of new life in creation. Most of all I love the reminder of joy and love celebrated at the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection for the sake of humanity.
And this spirit is in stark contrast to the numerous concerns of our day. Just consider the suffering of the poor, the contentious political races, the advances of terrorist groups, and seeing the genuine hatred of protestors that proclaim those who disagree with them are basically evil.
Regardless of which side of the debates one may be on, there is at least one thing that most of us should agree on — evil does exist in the world.
In fact, in light of this evil, I have wrestled with the question of how God can allow so many to suffer and yet still be considered a loving God. Even after studying apologetics — which provided intellectual answers to this question — the harsh realities of an all-too-often cruel world reminded me that my intellectual arguments were not enough.
Certainly, many of us who call ourselves Christians refrain from dealing with some of the issues of our day because we are struggling with this question ourselves. We feel inadequate to confront certain situations. We allow those who feel trapped to remain in their suffering by only presenting them with a “religion” that is essentially shallow and does not offer true healing.
If we were honest with ourselves, when we ask, “how are you today?” most of us only want to hear, “I’m fine.” Sadly, we often present only a shiny veneer of Christianity that covers up the painful things we go through in life. Doing this seems to be so much easier than actually dealing with the junk that seems to be growing more prevalent in our society — hatred, lying, abuse, divorce, addiction, molestation, sexual sins, the list goes on and on.
For quite a while, this question ached in my mind until one fateful day as I was looking at a tree outside my window. It was beginning to show signs of the coming spring. Like that tree, I felt life coming into me as I began to understand that pain and suffering are often not means by which we become more distant from God. Rather, it is through pain and suffering that many of us become humble enough to draw closer to God.
Because we are human, pain, suffering and evil will always exist, but God recycles it and brings about healing and wholeness. And in the process we experience not only a greater capacity to love but to forgive.
Ironically, it is often during times of abundance, whether it is in abundance of wealth, education, status, and position, that we become prideful, forget God, and begin to question the existence of God. At that point, the problem of pain and the existence of evil then becomes the pretext by which the one who desires to stand in judgment of God sets the foundation to deny Him.
However, the very question, “If a loving God exists, then why is there so much suffering?” betrays itself because imbedded within it is a moral offense.
Logic would dictate that if there is no God then, in the end, it ought not matter if something is right or wrong, good or evil. Essentially, moral judgments are meaningless.
Experience has shown me that based on the passion in the denial of God, the motivation to raise such questions are often times not out of a need for intellectual congruency but out of painful and antagonistic experiences with religion.
And so we are left with a divided country that seems to vehemently label people, actions, and opinions that oppose them as “evil.” I suspect part of the reason why is because we are quick to judge and decree injustice and evil in others and God, but we are not honest about the evil within ourselves, our own faults and hurts, and we are not willing to come alongside those who are truly suffering.
Contrary to many caricatures of God being a distant entity who does not care about us, Easter reminds us that God is a person who cared enough — and still cares — to allow his son to enter this painful world and endure it with us.
Jesus, God in the flesh, allowed himself to be betrayed, tortured, and crucified. He knows what it feels like to be isolated and to suffer in the most intimate and agonizing of ways, and yet still say upon his death, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
If God’s response to evil and sin was to allow his own son to suffer and die — then be resurrected — how much must he hate evil, sin, and suffering? And if upon his dying, we are now able to draw closer to him, how much must He truly love us?
So, now, as one who calls herself a Christian, I am left with the challenge that no matter what suffering I face, no matter what the political climate, and no matter what our national enemies do, I am called to bring sin, evil, and suffering to light and allow for consequences to occur, even if they are painful.
Removing painful consequences is not a compassionate act, it is an unjust one. At the same time our heart is always to hope, to love, and to forgive — even as God does.
This is the amazing paradox of the Cross and is too rare in our country. Yet, it is one that we are reminded of every Easter.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]