“In the cities the wounded and dying cry out, but God ignores their prayers.” This cry of Job must be one of the most poignant statements in the Scriptures. Although the scholars keep telling us this is an anguished cry for help from a man in intense pain, it sounds more like a cry of despair. After all, this is the Job who also cried: “I give up, I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense.” But the scholars must be right: knowing Job, basically a man of faith, his outburst must have been a cry for help. He is virtually saying: “Lord, tell me what’s going on.” But what does it say? It says that even faithful people, surrounded by a sea of trials, like trapped animals, can cry in pain.
Bad things are happening to good people; bad people seem to thrive; innocent children die of abortion and abuse; children are born deformed; pornography and racism thrive; powerful nations prepare for war; public and private selfishness is growing. Good and evil seem to be at war and evil seems triumphant. People, even good people, can begin to question God’s plan. Usually, there are two opinions: that God had stopped caring or that God is just unable to deal with this tide of evil.
In the Gospels, Jesus disagrees with both these attitudes and proposes a third view – the true Christian attitude toward evil in the world. God does not remove evil and suffering from the world, and He lets us deal with their reality because He respects our freedom. And faithfulness to God in the presence of evil and suffering is the test of the disciple of Christ. Throughout all this struggle, God’s caring presence and support is available to us. The grace of God is always present. In this Christian perspective, evil is around; it is a horrible reality and there is no denying its pervasive presence.
What do we do? One thing we cannot do is to deny all responsibility and culpability for so much evil that is around in our hearts, in the nation and the world. How can we, for instance, blame God or anybody else for our personal decisions and sinfulness? How can we blame God for so much that is wrong with our nation? And there is a great deal wrong with our nation. There is no way we can abdicate responsibility and culpability. If we are given charge over our lives, our nation and our world, how can we say we are not responsible? And if we are responsible, we must deal with them and grapple with them with the courage and the force of our moral convictions and our faith.
This is not to diminish the extent of the challenge of evil and suffering. There is so much we don’t understand, so much that is mysterious. The only answer we get is that God has an answer which will be revealed to us in His own time; and there is a hint of another reason: that good can come out of evil and sin if we know how to deal with them – to hang on in faith and faithfulness, even when these don’t seem to make sense. The challenge is to remain faithful when the cancer strikes; when death comes to one you love; when God seems so far away; when mountains of sin and
unfaithfulness rise beside you; when the world keeps telling you to give up and run away.
If Job, Jesus, Paul and the saints could do this, surely we could, and perhaps should. It is a sign of faith to plead with God when suffering becomes almost unbearable, and evil intolerable. Perhaps then we would realize that God is in the eye of the storm, strengthening us and supporting us with His comforting presence.