by Philip Yancey

That question comes up whenever tragedy strikes. We have no more definitive answer than Job got, when God appeared in person but evaded the question. We have only the stubborn hope—so different from naive optimism—that the story of Jesus, which includes both death and resurrection, gives a bright clue to what God will do for the entire planet. Optimism promises that things will gradually improve; Christian hope promises that creation will be transformed. Until then, God evidently prefers not to intervene in every instance of evil or natural disaster, no matter how grievous. Rather, God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world.

“It is for your good that I am going away,” Jesus told the mystified disciples in a final act of delegation, giving us the pattern to follow. “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Then Jesus went out to face a long night of suffering, which he had prayed fervently against and yet would decline to use his power to prevent.

Creation has been groaning “as in the pains of childbirth,” Paul told the Romans, harboring no illusions about the state of our planet. Our only hope is radical intervention, that one day “the creation itself will be liberated” in a sort of cosmic rebirth. Until then, no answer to suffering will satisfy, even if we had the capacity to comprehend the answer.

Like Job we can only attend to the small picture, clinging to belief against all contrary evidence, while trusting God with the big picture. Faith, I’ve concluded, means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

Adapted from “The Question That Never Goes Away”

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