When I was growing up, there was a nationally syndicated television show known as the “Gospel Singing Jubilee.”
It featured many of the top quartets, trios, and musicians in the gospel music industry, and I tuned in often, both to listen to the music, and to see the people that I was acquainted with through my parents’ association with sacred music.
One of the most popular songs that many of the singers performed during those days was titled, “I Don’t Need to Understand.” Allow me to share the chorus with you:
I don’t need to understand
I just need to hold His hand
I don’t ever need to ask the reason, why
For I know He’ll make a way
Through the night and through the day
I don’t need to understand
I just need to hold His hand.
There is a line in that song that I always found extremely disconcerting: “I don’t ever need to ask the reason, why.” Really? We never need to ask the reason why there is so much evil and suffering in the world? The fact of the matter is we do ask the reason why, and it is good that we do because it can help us deal with tragedies in a more redemptive way, and it can also help us develop a healthier view of the nature of God.
George Barna, the leading researcher of spiritual trends in America conducted a national survey in which he scientifically selected a cross-section of adults and asked this question: “If you could ask God only one question and you knew God would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The number one answer was this: “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
This can become a real problem for us because we live in a “the public has the right to know” era. We live in a society that demands an explanation for everything, and we get frustrated because though journalists and fortune-tellers and lawmakers operate by that policy, God does not do so. It’s interesting that every time tragedy strikes we call God on the carpet and demand clarification, as if God owes us something.
These questions can be embarrassing because we believe that God is a good God. We believe that God is love. This is the message of the New Testament from beginning to end: God is love. The idea of a loving God and the reality of our suffering just do not seem to go together. So, how do we answer our cry for understanding?
We have a devastating habit of using the phrase, “It’s God’s will.” We do this because that is what we have been taught, and too often taught by the church. We develop the habit of declaring it to be God’s will because we have thought that it’s the only way to endure disaster, tragedy, suffering, and sorrow. It is a kind of valiant fatalism to say, “God’s will is being done.”
I have had trouble with this concept all my life. I still have trouble with it whenever I hear someone trying to comfort a grief-stricken person by saying, “It was God’s will.” However, I also deeply believe that God is at work in the world in ways that we cannot comprehend.
So, the questions are: If God does not cause tragedy and suffering, what role does God play in suffering? In other words, where is God when it hurts? Where is God when planes crash, earthquakes devastate, and people die in car accidents? You may be suffering today and want to know the answer to these questions. How do we make sense of suffering and at the same time worship and embrace a loving and gracious God?
This coming Sunday as I continue my current summer sermon series, Hymns My Mama Taught Me, I am going to share how I have learned to reconcile the reality of suffering with a good and loving God. I pray this will prove helpful to you.
Finally, an update on Summer Institute…no more will I accuse you all of lollygagging! On Monday afternoon, the last seat was taken and the class is now completely full. I’m excited about this year’s topic and I thank you for your interest and support of this series each and every summer.
I trust that you will have a great week and I look forward to seeing you in worship this coming Sunday as we begin the month of July together!
Rev. Dr. Kip Laxson
P.S. I have never claimed to have all of the answers to life’s most troubling questions. But I am happy to share my personal struggles and how I have come to reconcile my spiritual life with the reality of God. Over the next few weeks, I will be sitting down with some of your fellow congregants and giving them the opportunity to ask me what’s on their mind. I’ll share these candid interviews on Twitter (I’m @LaxsonKip) and they’ll also be posted here in my blog. Stay tuned.