We’ve been asking questions here at East Brentwood in a summer series “Questions + Courage = Faith” based on questions submitted and voted on. This Sunday we tackle what I call the Big Question”: “Why?” As in: “Does God will evil and suffering in the world and in our lives?” This question got a lot of votes, even though I think of religion these days refuses to acknowledge the reality of suffering. As William Willimon wrote in his book Thank God It’s Friday, church these days doesn’t “do too well in the dark.”
I have been perusing the texts of scripture and coming across the obvious texts related to the theme of tragedy and suffering, among them: the Book of Job; the story of the tragedy of the collapse of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13). I also came across Psalm 29 and its line: “The voice of the Lord is over the water.” Last week I was at the happy occasion of a family wedding. While that happy family occasion was happening I heard news of the duckboat tragedy in Branson, MO where 17 people drowned in the lake after high winds capsized the boat. Nine of the perished were from one family. The words of the psalmist intersect with the pain of this story and present us with the big question: Why did God do this or allow it to happen. Tia Coleman lost 7 family members -- all of her children. Coleman said she’s never been through something this difficult. "I don't know if there's a recovery from it," she said. She said she’s been getting through the tragedy with a lot of prayers, and thanked the support of family members and friends. "Going home, I already know, is going to be completely difficult. I don’t know how I’m going to do it," Coleman said. "Since I’ve had a home, it’s always been filled with little feet and laughter, and my husband."
In the course of getting ready for this sermon, I have come across the stories and resources shared by remarkable people and communities of people who have faced great suffering and tragedy and have much to share. I pass these on to you in the hope that they are helpful if you are facing suffering and tragedy or that you may be helpful to a friend undergoing an experience of darkness.
Fresh Air’s Terry Gross’ Interview with Duke Divinity School Professor Kate Bowler about her book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s a memoir about Kate Bowler - a religion professor and young mother - having colon cancer that metastasized, and being told she had a little time to live but then finding an experimental immunotherapy treatment that seems to be helping. The interview, as is the book, is about how her illness has affected her religious practice, and how her religious practice has affected how she deals with her illness. This is a fantastic interview. (Click here for the manuscript.)
Here is a blog curated by a bereaved parent called Still Standing. I commend to you a list of Six Things One Should Never Say to a Bereaved Parent. If you have a friend who is facing the inconsolable loss of a child, this could be a great resource to help you be there in a supportive way. (Click here for the blog.)
·Among a resource I have come back to time and time again is Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans, 1987). A Yale philosopher writes poetically, honestly and authentically about the death of his 25-year-old son who died in a climbing accident. His diary entries speak “To the most agonized question I have ever asked I do not know the answer. I do not know why God would watch him fall.” (Click here for more information on the book.)
Faith dares to ask the big question. Faith is not afraid to ask, “Why is this happening? Where is God in this?” Faith sees in those questions themselves a deep trust. Faith understands and experiences God, God’s mercy and love and kindness, even in the experiences of God’s silence and absence.
I have book learning on this subject and I have had the privilege of carrying a flashlight beside families as they have walked through the darkness of pain and loss and suffering. Not having the unimaginable experience of having lost a child or faced incurable disease, I am grateful for all those who have struggled so honestly and faithfully with the biggest and most profound questions of all, especially this Big Question.