One of life’s most challenging questions is, “Why?” Barbara asked it on September 11, 2001, when she overslept and was late to work. The plane that crashed into the World Trade Center killed everyone who was in her office that morning. Barbara was only alive because she was late to work. Why did she live and why did they die? Barbara will wrestle with this question for the rest of her life…

Inherent in the question, “why” is the mystery of theodicy. The term theodicy was coined by the philosopher, Leibnitz in 1797. In its simplest form the question of theodicy is this: If God is sovereign, and God is good, why is there such horrific evil in the world?

Rabi Harold Kushner dealt with this question in his bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? Kushner wrote this book when his son, Aaron, was born with progeria (advanced aging.) When Aaron was 14 years old, he stood only 3 feet tall and yet his face was like that of an 85-year-old man. As the rabbi watched his son suffer, he wondered why a good Jewish family, who obeyed the Jewish Law, would experience such monstrous suffering. It is an excruciating question.

But, underneath this question is an erroneous theological assumption that Kushner addresses in his book: if we are good, good things will happen to us, and if we are bad, bad things will happen to us. For example, if I hit a shot in golf that is headed for a tree and it bounces off a limb and lands on the green…my playing partners kid me and say, “Tom…you must be living right!” My playing partners are trying to make sense out of the reality that we get things that we do not deserve…both good and bad.

People in Jesus’ day struggled to make sense out of this reality too. In John 9, Jesus’ disciples tried to understand why a man would be born blind. The only way they could make sense of it was to think that someone must have sinned: the man or his parents. But Jesus teaches them that God has a bigger purpose for suffering… “That God’s works might be manifest in the blind man.” (John 9:3)

As we try to understand this mystery of theodicy, it helps me to picture, in my mind’s eye, one word and one symbol. The word is “Why?” and the symbol is the empty cross. Whenever something bad happens and we ask, “Why?” picture the empty cross and the suffering of Jesus. The word excruciating comes from the Latin, ex cruces, “out of the cross.” Thus, when we suffer, we draw strength from Jesus who understands our suffering, and is with us in it. And whenever you look at the empty cross ask, “Why is the cross empty?” The cross and the tomb are both empty because God raised Jesus from the dead.

Today’s devotional ends with the word: “Why?” But it is not our human question, why, but the divine question, why? If Jesus were on the earth today, I believe he would ask us, “Why does it take a tragedy for you to turn to me? Why do you wait until you are at your lowest point before letting me help you? Why would you wait another minute before turning your life over to me? Jesus is waiting for our response.

Reflection Questions

  • When in your recent past have you asked the question, “Why?
  • When have you, or a loved one, experienced excruciating suffering and pain? Have you let Jesus Christ into your suffering? If not…what is stopping you?
  • Is there someone who is struggling with these questions who you think might benefit from your passing along this devotional to them?