Why does God allow tragedy and suffering?
And the truth is there’s a mystery to tragedies like these. We don’t know the answer. And we may never know until God explains all things to us. To these big tragic events, we can all add the everyday pain and suffering we experience in our individual lives. There’s illness, abuse, broken relationships, injuries, heartache, crime and the loss of someone dear to us. And we ask – Why? Why? Why?
At least Jesus was honest with us about the inevitability of suffering. In the Gospel of John, he said, "You will have to suffer in this world." He didn't say – you might – he said it is going to happen. But why?
If you ask me, “Why did God allow the gunman to spray a high school in Florida with gunfire just a few days ago?” the only answer I can honestly give consists of four words: "I do not know." None of us have God's mind we don't share his perspective.
Saint Paul once said: "Now we see things imperfectly like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity." Someday we'll see clearly, but for now, things are foggy. We can't understand everything from our limited perspective.
The people suffering from the Florida tragedy don't need a big theological treatise right now, any intellectual response is going to seem trite and inadequate. What they desperately need now is the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. They need a shoulder to cry on from someone who cares. They need friends to journey with them through the pain. And we know and can be grateful, that so many churches and ministries of that community are helping them experience that.
It is still important to grapple with the question of why God allows suffering in our lives. I had a very good friend who taught me a lot about suffering. His name was Liam Hearne. Liam was born with cystic fibrosis he had been in and out of hospitals his whole life and yet he told me one day he thought God is fair. I looked at him in amazement and said, “Liam you think that God is fair after all you have been through, and he said, "Yes … and God has all eternity to make it up to me."
We've all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter to reject God to become hard and angry and sullen can cause another person to turn to God to become more gentle and more loving and more tender willing to reach out to compassionately help other people who are in pain.
That was Liam! He was always ready to reach out to comfort others.
The God we worship isn't some distant, detached, and disinterested deity. He entered our world and personally experienced our pain. But he also came into our world to show us the glory of God too. That’s what the Gospel story teaches us today. Yes, suffering exists, and Christ who shared in our humanity shared in our suffering so that we could share in his divinity. And that day on the mountain he showed Peter, James, and John - and us - His divinity is something truly spectacular.
John Henry Newman a 19th-century convert who became a cardinal told us what this moment truly means. He said: “It is the duty and the privilege of all disciples of our glorified Savior, to be exalted and transfigured with Him; to live in heaven in their thoughts, motives, aims, desires, likings, prayers, praises, intercessions, even while they are in the flesh; to look like other men, to be busy like other men, to be passed over in the crowd of men, or even to be scorned or oppressed, as other men may be, but all the while to have a secret channel of communication with the Most High, a gift the world knows not of; to have their life hid with Christ in God.”
That is our call to be transformed too.
To shine the light of Christ – the glory of God – to those all around us
To like Liam be a beacon of light even in a broken world.