Sunday, July 02, 2006

Evil, Suffering and God

At the family reunion yesterday I was speaking to Cousin Randy who is a recently retired English school teacher. He was reflecting on different books that he had read over the years. He recommended The Long Walk (Slavomir Rawicz), a story that he said spoke powerfully of human perseverance and hope in the midst of imprisonment in Siberia. He then was reminded of The Hiding Place, a book that he had read with his high school students. We both started reflecting on our favorite memories of this book - favorite not because of a serene or romantic picture of life but because of the powerful force with which we remembered being awestruck by the mercy of God in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp. We remembered the medicine bottle that never ran out, the amazing gift of the Bible that fulfilled all of Corrie's longings, the deep love between Corrie and Betsie that only grew in the presence of hate and the rejoicing in the answered prayer of fresh bananas. I had not read The Hiding Place for about ten years, but the portrayal of bright light shining in darkness remained illumined, as though I had read it yesterday.

As much as I have always cherished the story of Corrie ten Boom's life, yesterday it held particular meaning. Its newfound profundity was realized with respect to another book that I have recently been reading by Lee Strobel, A Case for Faith. Strobel, a journalist, speaks of an interview that he had with Charles Templeton, a man who had preached with Billy Graham before becoming agnostic. His agnosticism was inspired by a National Geographic picture of an African woman staring toward Heaven in agony, holding a dehydrated and dead child in her arms. Templeton, at that moment, concluded that he could not believe in God, because if God existed he surely would have sent the rain that was necessary to quench the thirst of the young dead child. Templeton lost his faith. Following that conversation, Strobel continued to interview the learned with respect to the compatibility of suffering and a merciful God. His further conversations shed clarifying light on the orthodox Christian response to the popular question, "If God exists, why is there so much suffering?"

Certainly the intellect can find fulfilling answers to this question, but yesterday, in conversation with Cousin Randy, the answer to this question came not in words, but in a picture of a simple woman that loved God. Corrie ten Boom's life was far from desirable in any normal sense of the word. Her intense suffering was known physically, emotionally and spiritually. Her family was torn apart for their illegal hospitality to the Jewish people, her sister was killed while at Ravensbruk, her living conditions were unimaginable and her body abused. Perhaps it could be said of Corrie that she was a twentieth-century Job; for like Job, she remained faithful to the love of God through everything.

The product of her suffering was a treasure. Corrie knew God. And Corrie would proclaim without doubt that this was the pearl, long buried, but when found it was worth the sale of all else. Corrie witnessed the bold power of God in many miracles. We may wonder why we do not often see the miracles of God in the way that Corrie did. Yet how willing are we to suffer in faithful obedience? The timeless testimony of the saints repeats the consistent truth that the knowledge of God is valuable beyond measure and is known through obedience.

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

-William W. How