In Thesis 20, Luther says “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” This is part of the answer to the pastoral question. You don’t answer a suffering person, such as someone who lost limbs or loved ones in the collapse, by assuring him God caused it and is being glorified. That’s basically saying, “God has carefully orchestrated things for the purpose of screwing you over, because in some obtuse, incomprehensible way it helps him achieve a greater level of satisfaction. And that alone should make you feel better.” You remind him of Jesus’ suffering, not just how Jesus suffered freely for his salvation, but how because of Jesus and that ineffable mystery we call the Incarnation, God actually knows what it’s like to suffer. He’s with you in your suffering as one who empathizes because he himself has suffered in his own flesh and his own human soul. And it’s in his own suffering that God promises to redeem you of yours, to set right everything that’s gone wrong in this life. So you don’t explain the event except to affirm it’s wrongness and point people toward Christ’s suffering and the redemption he promises.
In the 21st disputation, Luther says, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it actually is.” Usually, when people try to rationalize some life-taking tragedy, such as saying God caused it for his glory or some other way of saying, “Well, it’s all for the best,” they’re calling evil good. They’re actually calling death itself, that which Christ came to abolish, good because “it redounds to the glory of God.” Death is an evil, satanic thing. I think the “best of all possible worlds” theory is absolute bunk, because God himself tells us the best of all possible worlds is one where there’s no death and no sin, the one that Christ came to create through his own death and resurrection. God himself condemned death, so what are you doing justifying it? I was baptized out of this crappy world and into the best of all possible worlds. This is all part of this psychological need many Christians have to justify God before the throne of the human ego. We’re the ones who need to be justified, but we act like God is the one who needs it. So when you start off with some kind of natural theology, seeing God as the one who does everything in the world, you quickly find yourself trying to justify God and ultimately end up declaring evil to be good.
So don’t water down the evil of death. Call the thing what it is, and that will allow you to give real comfort in the Cross and the resurrection. And unlike consoling yourself that God is screwing you to the wall because it makes him look awesome somehow, the Cross brings real comfort.
David Bently Hart, The Doors of the Sea
Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed.
Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death and, in such a world, our portion is charity. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy.
It is not a faith that would necessarily satisfy Ivan Karamazov, but neither is it one that his arguments can defeat for it has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead. We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’
God has a word to say to his people about “meaningless suffering.” Many of us have gone through tremendous suffering for which we see little or no purpose. Our hope is that we would see how “all things together for the good to those that love God” (Romans 8:28 NIV), yet often we don’t see how God brings good out of our suffering for a long time – maybe we won’t even see in this lifetime. In fact, many people suffering all around the world live and die without ever seeing any redemption or any real gain out of their suffering. How then can we find meaning and encouragement in our suffering in this life?
The Lord spoke to me, “No suffering is meaningless to me.” He showed me this Word: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 NLT). God said, “I treasure and cherish all of the sufferings of my saints. When you offer up your suffering to me, it is as fragrant, pleasing worship.” Our suffering moves, breaks the heart of God. What better purpose could anything in this life have than to minister to God, to touch God’s heart? Even if our suffering never seems to result in anything good in our lives or in the lives of others, we know that God cherishes us and is moved with compassion for whenever we suffer. God keeps track of all our sorrows. Not a single one of them will be wasted on God. For the believer, there is no such thing as meaningless suffering.