Evil in the world. Suffering among the poor, the drought-stricken and famine-stricken. Agony among people on whom is inflicted excruciating death. Betrayals on personal, social and global scales. Gratuitous cruelty in families and neighborhoods. Outrageous grabs by the powerful who disenfranchise, oppress and impoverish the less powerful.
We see all this around us – locally, regionally, globally. The headlines need no recitation. There you have it – evil.
In this world-scape, human-scape, suffering-scape people often ask – in puzzlement, despair or rage – ‘Where is God in all this?! Where are you, God – that is, if you even exist?!’ And when they’re calmer and more analytical, many conclude, ‘Look at all this! Obviously God doesn’t exist, or if God exists God doesn’t care!’
On the eve of the Sunday of the Passion of Jesus, and so also on the eve of Holy Week, a very different conclusion emerges. Where is God in the suffering? Well, right here!
The story of Holy Week is a disgraceful story of jealousy, rage, conspiracy, manipulation, violence, slander – and then condemnation, cruelty, mockery, torture, abandonment and, finally, excruciating death. The story is dark and shameful.
At the center of that story is Jesus – Jesus to whom all that happens, Jesus on whom all that is heaped, Jesus who feels it all so keenly that he cries out in desperation from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’ That cry resonates with the cry of so many who ask, ‘Where is God in the suffering?’ The Jesus who asks that question with us was a human being like all of us, yet at the same time the very being of God become flesh and living among us as one of us. He lived among us, yet without any of the prerogatives of God and thus without omnipresence, omniscience or omnipotence. So Jesus was genuinely alone, authentically vulnerable as he gaped into the darkness.
We often see ourselves on pilgrimage into God. The Incarnation was God’s pilgrimage into humanity. The primary mode of that pilgrimage was sharing – God sharing our life, God sharing our weakness, God sharing our anxiety, God sharing our unknowingness, God sharing our vulnerability to contingency and catastrophe. Solidarity is a fancier name for it, properly popular in mission discussions, but ‘sharing’ says it more simply. As Eucharistic Prayer A has it, Jesus was sent ‘to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.’
Jesus was sent first to share our life – that was his mission, his sent-ness. Yes, there were the mighty words and the mighty acts, the preaching and the healing, yet Jesus could not preach to everyone, nor could he heal everyone. The words and deeds were harbingers of a cosmic healing yet to come. Underlying his ministry was sheer presence – Immanuel, God simply with us, the sharing.
And that turned out to be costly, as sharing always is. Where is God in the suffering? – Well, right here in the midst of it. A task in Holy Week is simply to contemplate God’s sharing the human journey.
Another meditation on evil on this Saturday before Passion Sunday comes from Scott Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s ‘Weekend Edition.’ After describing how the Syrian government’s chemical attack in Idlib Province prompted him to think again about evil he had this to say:
I’ve interviewed Romeo Dallaire, the former Canadian general who commanded U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. General Dallaire discovered Hutu soldiers were getting ready to massacre Tutsi civilians. But he was prevented by U.N. leadership from using his troops to try to stop the murders before they could take place. More than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were then slaughtered over three months.
Romeo Dallaire said that what happened made him believe in evil, and even a force he called the devil. “I’ve negotiated with him,” he told us, “shaken his hand. Yes. There is no doubt in my mind …. and the expression of evil to me is through the devil and the devil at work and possessing human beings and turning them into machines of destruction. … And one of the evenings in my office, I was looking out the window and my senses felt that something was there with me that shifted me. I think that evil and good are playing themselves out and God is monitoring and looking at how we respond to it.”
God monitoring and looking at how we respond. Yes. And after the Christ event, God looks and monitors from the perspective of having been inside it and suffered its extremity of degradation.
God shared our condition, walked alongside us, suffered within our tormented situation. Living out the Christ event in our own lives means that we share the suffering of others, walk alongside them, suffer within their torment. That’s mission, our sent-ness.