The history of our world is the history of our suffering together. Every act of evil extracts a tear from God, every plunge into anguish extracts a sob from God. But the history of our world is the history of our deliverance together. God’s work to release himself from his suffering is his work to deliver the world from its agony; our struggle for joy and justice is our struggle to relieve God’s sorrow. When God’s cup of suffering is full, our world’s redemption is fulfilled. Until justice and peace embrace, God’s dance of joy is delayed (91).
The above quote is possibly the most profound statement on suffering that I have ever read. Of course, if one holds to the Greek notion of the impassability of God (which renders him statically emotionless), then the above quote is mere folly. But for those of us who recognize YHWH as fully revealed in Jesus Christ to be one who meets humanity in their suffering, who experiences the full wrath of the powers of evil with us, his anguish reminds us of our coming deliverance. Rather than claiming, this was God’s will or God knows best; Nicholas Wolterstorff, the author of Lament for a Son, rightly reminds us of a God who is truly with us who is opposed to evil.
The world of Wolterstorff is a world that I am well acquainted with. A world of loss. A world of instability. And over against these things, it is a world filled with the hope of the renewal of creation. “When the writer of Revelation spoke of the coming of the day of shalom, he did not say that on that day we would live at peace with death. He said that on that day ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (63).
Until the day when “all things will be made new,” Wolterstorff reminds us that death is not beautiful or a reality to be hyper-spiritualized to ignore the reality of its sting; “death is awful, demonic” (34). Scripture makes clear that the “…last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15.26). It is a power that brings grief, which makes the reality of today less fulfilled. To give easy answers to those who grieve would be to water down biblical theology and to offer “…ways of not looking death and pain in the face, ways of turning away from death out there to one’s own inner ‘grief process’ and then, on that, laying on the heavy hand of rationality” (54).
When we, as the body of Christ, care for our grieving sisters and brothers, we must not turn to simple fixes offered in self-help books or answers emerging from such philosophies; rather, we have the opportunity to help others find joy amidst the demonic pain of death. We can guide others to not ignore the evil of death, but to also honor the memory of those who have been lost by living in light of their life – which was stolen from them.
In the wake of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami, may we invite those who are suffering to stare evil in the face and name it as such. May we invite the families and friends of victims grieve as we too grieve with them. May we pray that the Spirit of God would reveal the empathic solidarity of Jesus among those who feel hopeless. And may we not attempt to justify this evil disaster with “God knows what’s best” or “It was part of God’s plan,” but rather allow people the dignity of naming this tragedy as evil as we anticipate a day when all pain will cease.