As I write this clergy letter, the news remains filled with suffering, atrocity, tragedy and disaster.
We may have tried to distance our- selves from all that is wrong in the world during Christmas and New Year , yet as we enter 2015, Ebola continues to cause devastation in West Africa, the peoples of Syria and Iraq remain in a state of desperation as the civil war rages on, and closer to home, people are still reeling from the lorry tragedy in Glasgow, and more generally, cuts and austerity measures continue to bite. No doubt, by the time you have read this letter, more bad news will have hit our TV screens; more pain, more shock, more lives changed forever.
Atrocities, tragedies and disasters are so frequent that we come to expect them. No sooner is one piece of bad news reported, then another follows, and how readily we forget the horrors of the very recent past. Of course when personal tragedy strikes, we are no longer looking in, but are intrinsically caught up in the trauma, shock and pain for ourselves.
The presence of evil and suffering within our world continues to raise questions as to how it got there in the first place,and why it continues. The bible itself gives us a picture not only of human beings exercising their freedom to make bad choices (often with disastrous consequences), but also accidents and disasters, what is termed ‘natural evil’ (namely, natural disasters). One answer therefore to the question as to why there is evil and suffering in the world, points to the freedom that exists within nature and humanity that allows things to go tragically wrong. How- ever, that is little comfort to people lost in their grief and who are searching for answers as to their plight.
In 1943, a seventeen year old German boy was assigned to an anti-aircraft battery in Hamburg whilst the RAF was in the process of destroying the city. This boy was located in the centre of the city and thousands were dying all around him in the fire storm caused by the bombing. His name was Jurgen Moltmann and he went on to be one of the greatest Christian theologians of our time. In the midst of the bombing, he recalls crying out to God for the first time in his life: “Where are you!” He subsequently encountered the presence of God’s comfort in the midst of a most desperate time in his life. On reflection he suggests that questions like ‘why does God lets bad things happen’, or’ why evil happens’, will never be sufficiently answered with any sensitivity in our current human experience; indeed he says they are usually the questions posed by onlookers to tragedy.
Yet to those in distress, to those caught up in pain and suffering, the cries to God for help do not go unheard. God himself in Christ plumbed the depths of human suffering and death on the cross, and continues to share in all human suffering today, not as an onlooker who empathises from a distance, but as one who utterly inhabits and knows that pain and suffering too. Moltmann suggests that a different question should be asked by those who worry and suffer: “How can God help me through this?”
It is a question asked by people who accept that they can- not always understand nor control their circumstances, yet can still trust in God’s care and provision to help them cope, whatever the outcome. I pray that even if 2015 becomes another year marked by tragedy, we will place our faith and trust in him who journeys with all humanity through joy and sorrow.
Revd Andy Grant