Why do people suffer? This question has rang down the ages like a cry in the dark that will not stop. Every generation, from Adam and Eve crying over their dead son, Abel, to the survivors of genocide, and everyone in between, have asked that question. Sometimes, the heavens are silent, as if God wants us to leave a message and the time that we called, and He will get back to us.
It's a legitimate question with no easy answers. But recently, I have been compelled to ask it and seek those answers. In fact, it is that very question that drove me into the arms of Jesus.
When I was in the 8th grade, our teacher was on an exchange program with a teacher in Palo Alto, California. I was living in Hawaii, having moved there a few years earlier from Los Angeles. This new teacher wanted us to learn about the Holocaust. This wasn't a new subject to me; my parents talked all the time about the atrocities of World War II. The movie "Exodus" had a profound effect on them, and how Israel was the only safe place for the Jews. They mentioned the tortures done to the Jews in the camps; it seemed as if they still couldn't believe something like that could happen on their generation's watch. But it did and they discussed it with an impressionable young girl, who tried in her imagination to see what has gone on.
Then came this teacher with a movie. Real images to replace the vague imaginings I had concocted; bodies in pits, closets with heads stacked inside; more pits, and more bodies. Dismembered body parts, stacked up like cord wood.
This threw me into a deep quest to understand such a horrific event. I read The Diary of Anne Frank, but that is comfortable history; people hiding, a girl falling in love. There is no diary that describes what happened to her once she was arrested, deported in a train and died a painful death of typhus in a squalid camp.
I couldn't believe that the God of my Sunday School, and my 50's parents' faith of do the right thing and love America could possibly have overseen such an event without any intervention. Where was America? Where were my parents? Where was God?
I then decided that there could be no God. Yup. I declared myself an atheist and had to eat my cosmic lunch alone. But then it stuck me: The people who perpetrated such horrors literally got away with murder. If this earth and its justice system was it, then any kind of justice meted out was paltry in comparison to the enormity of the crime and the numbers of who were involved.
So, I made my way back to God. Who is He? Buddhism seemed a good choice, because in Hawaii, that religion is prevalent. But a quiet individual, seated like a lotus with his eyes closed, seemed too far removed from the heads in the closet.
Then, I pursued Judaism. I wanted to desperately understand why the Jews had been so mercilessly hunted down and killed. The God of the Jews was familiar from my Sunday School days; my parents had long stopped going to church, but I remembered the lessons. So, I read every book in our school library about Judaism, Israel and Hitler.
I desperately wanted to believe that God would comfort the broken lambs and punish the wolves. What to do?
For a class project, I had to write a biography of a famous person. A good friend of mine had been telling me about Jesus, and to read the New Testament. In my wisdom, I declared that the New Testament had been written by Christians, so it was unreliable and biased. Then came the movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. Oh wow. Music and a Jesus who railed against injustice was a potent mix to my searching heart. Alright then: My biography project would be on Jesus Christ. But no Bible as a source; I used many books from our school's library. I wrote a long paper and made a poster of the highlights of His life.
Now, I faced a conundrum: I loved Judaism, but this Jew with the fire in his eyes and his call to stand up against evil was far too compelling to ignore. One night, having laid a Star of David and a cross on my nightstand, I prayed that God would move the one He wanted me to follow. The room filled with such a warmth and presence that I knew I had met God. Personally. Deeply. I was forever changed.
My heart's quest had been fulfilled. I had met the One who had not forgotten this earth, its inhabitants, nor its evil. He has not been a spectator, but as C.S. Lewis observed, He invaded this planet in the person of His Son, Who, like the troops on D-Day, has been taking back the planet from its evil empire one soul at a time.
I have been on a quest ever since to reconcile the goodness of God with the immense evil on this planet. Enroll with me in the School of Job to explore the nature of suffering. I don't know exactly where we will go, but the Holy Spirit wants us to be bold adventurers and seek truth, no matter where it leads.
Because, ultimately, a genuine search will lead us back to the One who calls Himself, "Truth."
Will we answer the question of "Why do we suffer?" Maybe yes. Maybe no. But I have found the one thing such a search brings is a deeper understanding of God, and our relationship to Him. That alone is worth the journey.