Suffering in a time of War
written by Rev Gary Heard

It is interesting that one question I have not heard asked in recent weeks is “Why doesn’t God intervene to stop the suffering of Iraqi civilians, particularly children? The problem of human suffering is one which continues to test our human resolve, along with our understanding of God’s place in it. For those who have argued for the war, there has been an implicit - and sometimes explicit - recognition that some suffering is necessary for advancement of peace. Those who have opposed the war have counted the cost for this action as far too high and of questionable intent. But no-one engaged in debate about the war on Iraq has been able to escape the question of suffering. All have laid its responsibility at human feet, though many have sought God for peace in the midst of it all.

The Easter events bring the question of suffering into sharp focus. The death of Jesus on the cross was justified on the basis of political agendas. While no-one could agree on the charge to be brought against him, there was unanimity on this one point: that he should be put to death. The person held out as responsible for some of the greatest moral teachings in history, and whose actions brought liberation and life to many, was brutally treated by fellow human beings.

This Jesus, who claimed a unique relationship to God, was taunted by bystanders as he hung on the cross: “Where is this God who would deliver you?”
Jesus chose silence as his response. Just as he eschewed defending himself, through his silence, Jesus chose a pathway little understood. Where was God while Jesus hung on the cross?

In the final analysis, any suggestions toward an answer to that question risk being trivial or dispassionate. Jesus died, with his own final words as death approached including the cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Suffering can never be glorified nor trivialized. Though Jesus lived for peace and reconciliation, and eschewed violence as an answer to the many problems faced at a political and personal level, it was violence which overtook him. Were the story to end there, it would paint a bleak picture of the future.

But death was not the final word on the life of Jesus. God, though apparently silent at the cross, did not let it become the ultimate victor. By raising Jesus from death, God not only vindicated Jesus, but did not allow violence to stand as the final answer to the problems of humanity. The ultimate victor in this world is not the one with the strongest armies or the biggest weapons, but the ones who follow the way of God, as shown in Jesus. Easter reminds us of God’s vindication of Jesus, and of the true way to peace, following in Jesus’ footsteps.

April 20, 2003
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