Atheists love to raise the problem of pain and suffering for Christians, asking them to explain or even justify why a benevolent and omnipotent God doesn’t do more! I love to talk about how we believe in an incarnate God Who came to live among us, suffer with us, and die for us – and live in us, sharing, bearing, transforming our pain, sorrow, and eventual death. I love to ask them how their nihilistic or fatalistic philosophy of life equips them to face suffering and death?
As I write this article people are trying to digest another terror attack launched by ISIS, this time leaving dead and injured in Brussels, Belgium. I think back to the Boston Marathon bombings and what Eleanor Barkhorn, a writer for The Atlantic, noticed on her social media feeds.
There were calls to “Pray for Boston.” She wrote, “It was jarring … It was …strange to see so many non-religious friends talking about prayer.” Timothy Keller writes how she even “gave a first person account of how, as a young nonreligious resident in Manhattan after 9/11, she had felt ‘an involuntary urge to call on God’s name’ which eventually grew into a desire to read the Bible and finally into a full-blown Christian faith” (Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, p. 71). In the midst of or even the aftermath of such devastating tragedies we must somehow reach beyond ourselves grasping or gasping for … God!
After the Newtown shootings a column by Samuel G. Freedman in The New York Times was entitled: “In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent.” Timothy Keller writes:
“Connecticut is hardly the center of the U.S. Bible Belt, yet every single family in Newtown who lost a child chose to hold religious services, which took place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon, and Methodist churches, as well as in a Protestant mega-church and a Jewish cemetery… Freedman was one of the many who found it startling that in an increasingly secular society, where now some twenty percent of the population told pollsters they had ‘no religious preference,’ our society turned so visibly to God and faith to communally face the tragedy.” (Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, p. 65)
I have mentioned before how a friend who is a hospice chaplain testifies: “Few patients facing death turn down a chaplain.” He has inspired everyone who has read his faith-filled texts the last seven months as he has weathered withering cancer treatments for lymphoma. It might be an overstatement to say there are no atheists in foxholes, but it is accurate to say there are mighty few atheists in foxholes and hospices.
If, as the secularist says, life is all about pursuing pleasure and/or power, what is left of life when we are helpless and powerless? Sartre speaks for many when he acknowledged that suicide was the “natural” (godless) course. Viktor Frankl discovered that without meaning, people in pain and anguish soon just give up and die in despair. Yancey refers to Blaise Pascal, who couldn’t understand why non-seeking skeptics would choose to bet their life on a philosophy that offered nothing but “a brief life in a meaningless universe and then annihilation.”
The question looms larger than life: Is godless secularism not “… the saddest thing in the world?’”
I want to close with a story that is dear to my heart and special to my family. Although I was born after London endured bombs raining down on its homes every night, I remember the bomb shelter in my back yard and the stories my parents told of how King George VI and his family refused to leave their home in London. Their courage and compassion amidst the terror and bombed-out buildings endeared them to the English people.
I do remember as a little boy how my family was still on food rations long after the war had ended. King George VI delivered a Christmas Eve speech to the nation in which he tried to encourage people as they faced a new year. It was a most difficult assignment for him because he was a stutterer who struggled to get his words out. He used this quotation in his speech: “I said to the man at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may walk safely into the unknown.’ He said to me, ‘Go into the darkness, and put your hand in the hand of God, and it shall be to you better than the light, and safer than the known.’”
Little did my family know at the time that he was dying of cancer and entrusting himself to His Lord and Savior. I am so thankful that we as Christians can encourage people to take the hand of God as we all forge forward into what often seems like a frightful future. This is the best Good News in a world of Bad News!