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If you are like me, then you are beginning to be a bit overwhelmed by the evil that has manifested itself in our country as of late.
The shootings at the elementary school in Connecticut are a stark reminder that there is true darkness in the world.
Many of you have asked the question of ‘why?’ My 5-year-old son knows enough of the world to ask the question of why, and I am sure your children do, too.
Though we all belong to the light of the world, there has been much darkness present in our lives over the past few months – enough to make you want to shiver in the cold emptiness of its shadow. The question that plagues Christians and non-Christians alike is why is there suffering?
Scattered throughout the New Testiment are stories of bearers of the gospel suffering. How are we to understand this? There are two ways to answer this through scripture.
First, Paul understands that the suffering he endures serves as a way to be like Christ, as well as it being for Christ’s sake. Paul says: “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)
Paul looked at his suffering as a participation in the mystery of Christ and his way of becoming like Christ. Suffering to the apostle was viewed as imitation of the life of Christ. Though this is justifying, it isn’t exactly comforting in the wake of tragedy.
So then, the other way is to remember that we serve an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent, all-knowing God. In other words, we serve a God who is all-powerful, ever-present and whose knowledge is complete beyond human recognition and reconciliation. We human beings can’t see past the horizon as God can. Paul says: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. “ (1Co 13:12-13 NRS)
Our hope and trust lies in a God who “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We as Christians must understand that we serve a suffering God. We truly miss the significance of that fact. Dietrich Bonheoffer reminded us that “only the suffering God can help.” The God who takes our pains, and our struggles, and makes them His own, is the God who truly understands us. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of God’s love towards all creation.
By allowing Himself to be crucified as an outcast and a criminal, God casts his lot with the poor, the powerless, the wretched and the dispossessed of the world. This is identification at its very best. We serve a God who has felt the pains we feel, who has mourned as one of us yet chose to remind us that the grave is a defeated foe. Though he wept at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus’ tears were not the climax of the story. After the stone had been removed and Jesus had called his name, Lazarus walked forth from the grave,reminding us that life extends beyond what our human eyes can see. This logically changes the equation by which we judge events concerning suffering. Christ knew what it was to mourn and suffer, yet this did not define Him. Life eternal was His gift to us and thus we look beyond the short time we spend here in this broken creation towards the new heaven, and the new earth in which death shall be abolished and suffering shall not even be a memory.
Our Christmas season this year is a dark one there is no doubt, but so was the first one. The Son of God didn’t come in a happy time where the sun shone and rainbows filled the sky. Jesus came in a time of true darkness—when God’s children needed Him most. It is this pastor’s opinion that we need Jesus this Christmas. Far more than trees, far more than presents, and far more than reindeer. We need the mercy, peace, and comfort of the Son of the living God this season,my friends.
I leave you with the final words of a prayer from Max Lucado: “Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger. This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.”
The Rev. Drew Oakley is pastor of the Carrollton United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Ky.