Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries offers a daily devotional called A Slice of Infinity that you can receive in your email. On July 11, 2013, the following was published:

The Side of the Broken
June 2013 will not be long forgotten by the Indian mind for the pain that we experienced as a nation. The tragedy surrounding one of Hinduism’s most sought after pilgrim centers, Uttarkhand, spells a magnitude that is staggering. The region is known for the beauty of the Himalayas and has often been referred to as “the land of gods” on account of the places of worship and pilgrim centers that it houses. Some estimate that as many as a few thousand villages were swallowed up by rushing waters and an estimated ten thousand individuals were carried to a watery grave amid flash floods, heavy rains, landslides, and building collapses. Amid the chaos there have also been reports of the heroic efforts by the Indian armed forces and other relief agencies in their rescue efforts in the region. Yet, the horrifying experience of humanity being pitted against the strength of nature’s raw and unbridled power has left us with pictures that cause us to shudder, if not scream, “Why?”

For those who were there and providentially made it out safely, the sense of relief and yet the horror of having been so close to injury or death must take a long time to deal with. For those whose pilgrimage turned into tragedy, in either injury to self or in the death of a loved one, the pain will remain. I watched a video clip of a few pilgrims who made it to what appeared a safe place overlooking a deep waterfall only to be washed away by the rushing waters moments later in full view of others. I had not envisaged the end of the video and may have spared myself of the agony had I known. Tears stream down my face as I write.

At moments like this, the worldviews don’t divide us. The pain unites us. That group of individuals could have been my loved ones in another circumstance. There is something about another’s pain that rattles our insides. As I bow to pray for mercy, I realize that I am far removed from the circumstances of my fellow citizens who have been hurt, injured, traumatized, and bereaved. Yet, I know can pray. I can cry. I can feel the pain.

This is no picture postcard world. As I write, there are images from Syria, Egypt, and other parts of the world that remind us that it is a volatile world of brokenness. It is also troubling to note that while the vagaries of nature have wrought great harm in Uttarkand, the vagaries of humankind have brought great pain in other parts of our globe.

As we think of circumstances like these, we are left with the two-fold challenge of seeking explanations and solutions. The naturalist will be quick to dismiss any notion of the divine. The faithful ones of various faiths will have their pick of explanations. For instance, I read of a survivor from Uttarkhand who believed that what happened there was on account of the wrath of the gods being unfolded on humanity’s careless wrecking of tress, minerals, and natural resources. Others may speak of fate that could not be escaped, that the story had been scripted thus and could only unfold as it did. Still others will struggle and seek solace rather than reason. To them no explanation will be appealing or comforting—and maybe the majority of those who had a personal tryst with the tragedy would come close to that position.

The Christian worldview offers us a view that I dare say can be found nowhere else. It is one worldview which neither callously dismisses the pain on the one hand nor makes the sufferer stand alone in that pain. The Christian worldview presents us the view of a Perfect One who paid the price for the brokenness of an imperfect world. His goal in coming was not to say, “Here is my judgment,” it was rather to say, “I will take your judgment upon myself.” Like a fair judge who does not condone the magnitude of the crime committed but passes the sentence and then moments later offers to take the place of the condemned one, Jesus came to set us free.

The stories from Uttarkhand will continue to haunt our national memory. The pain of those who made their pilgrimage even in the face of physical dangers will not be easily forgotten. But our prayer as God’s people can be that from the valleys and hills of such pain and memories, some would find their hope in lifting their eyes to another hill—the hill upon which a Savior died. A God who stands on the side of the broken.

Arun Andrews is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bangalore, India.

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