The old but ever nagging question of why bad things happen to good and innocent people is a question for which we are still in search of an answer. If you are a religious person, the answer becomes even more urgent simply because religion in all its manifestations holds the belief in a God who is good and gracious, all powerful and all-knowing. Yet there are tragedies that engulf the good and innocent. The question of why remains. It seems as if it will never go away.

When we are struck by tragedies that claim the lives of those who seem not to be responsible for the tragedy, the question comes forcefully at us. Those who are touched by the tragedy will keep asking why? Over the past two months it seems as if Barbados has had more than its fair share of tragedies.

There was the bus accident at Joe’s River, the mother, her two children, and relative who lost their lives in a vehicular accident at Mullins, a young man who drowned, and the most recent, the collapse of the apartment with the family of five at Britton’s Hill. The family and the relatives of all these persons, and many others will ask the question ‘Why?’

Not that the question and the search for an answer is new. It has been pursued through the various strands of religion for millenniums. This has been a quest by humanity to find some answers. One of the most piercing of such searches took place in Africa in Ancient Egypt some four thousand years ago and preserved for us is a document entitled ‘A dispute of a man with his Soul’

In this work there is a survey of all that is going wrong:

....the wicked flourish, the gentle have perished there is
no friendship and the sin that treads the earth has no end

Life seems to flow against the cause of the righteous. This problem is also addressed in another Ancient Egyptian text, ‘The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant’

It is also the subject of discussion in literature from Ancient Babylon that dates from around the year 1500 B.C. In the work ‘The Babylonian Theodicy’ that dates from this era, there is a discussion about the suffering of the righteous and the innocent. As in the Egyptian literature, the discussion is driven by the question ‘why’ given the belief in a good and powerful deity.

The ideas found in these works from Egypt and Babylon are reflected in the book of Job.
Influenced by the wealth of this type of theology that sought to relate the bitter experiences of life to belief in a good and gracious God, the writer of the book of Job sought to bring this type of questioning to bear on the theology of his people.

He had inherited a theology that related pain and suffering to sin and disobedience of God. This theology is reflected in the book of Proverbs and in psalms 1 and 37. But the evidence and the experience all around him did not support this. There was no easy answer to why bad things happen to good and innocent people.

For him the provision of an easy answer to the problem of human suffering did not solve the problem. So he went in search of an answer. We can join him on his search in his book. In the search we journey with him through his chief character Job. There is questioning and agonizing .

His chief character Job and some of his friends get into heated arguments about the suffering of the righteous. Job was the righteous one who lost it all. His three friends were convinced that he had done something wrong and that he was being punished by God.

But Job insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He was convinced that there was an answer to this puzzle, but he just could not find the answer, until he encountered God in a new way. And in this encounter he realized that as serious and painful as his problem seemed to be, he could not conclude that he had been abandoned by God or that God is not just. God’s love he realized is broad enough to embrace us, problems, pain, death, loss and all.

It is in this context that we have to understand the pain and loss we suffer in this life. We place within this context the tragedies we mentioned earlier. We live in a world, indeed in a universe where the laws governing the natural world can often work against the welfare and well being of humanity.

The natural world can produce the greatest threats to our existence in the form of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, landslides, cave-ins and much more. There is therefore a great need to grasp a bigger image of God as the writer of Job does.

Without such an understanding of God, we will tend to see these disasters either as being sent by God or as a sign that he has lost control. As such he will emerge as a God who has surrendered to the forces of nature. Some will even venture to suggest that the fact all these events occurred on Sundays would seem to be communicating some message.

But we cannot believe that God is singling out Barbados and inflicting these tragedies upon us.

Such a God is surely not the one preached by Jesus of Nazareth. For him, God could embrace all the odd pieces of life that produce pain and sorrow. It could be rejection, a severe disability, a storm at sea, betrayal or even death.

Like the writer of the book Job and Jesus, both of whom believed that God never loses control and surrenders to the forces of nature, the friends of Jesus insisted that the most painful bit experiences of the life of Jesus, his betrayal and crucifixion had been embraced by God. He had been accepted by God in death and guided to resurrection.

The Church therefore emerged from a solid body of belief that held that none of the painful and odd bits of life, not even death, can fall outside of the power and grasp of God. He remains in absolute control. This is so eloquently stated by Paul when he affirms that none of the debilitating agents in the created order can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because of this belief we are able to place our pain and loss and sorrow in the wider context of God’s embracing love. Like the writer of the book of Job we try not to let these experiences lead us to reject the love of God. The writer of Job came to understand that although each of us can create a loving relationship with God, if the relationship seems strained from our human perspective, from the vast universal perspective of God we are still within his embrace. Personal experience is not enough conclusive evidence to suggest we have been abandoned by God.

We pray for all those who lost their lives in the recent tragedies. We pray for and offer pastoral support to their relatives. As those who believe in the resurrection power and love of an all embracing God, this period of pain should not shake our faith in Our God who is always here.

Let us use these experiences to lead us into a time of reflection upon our lives and our nation as we seek to follow God’s path of righteousness.
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