Staying Open to God in Adversity (Dr. Joshua Coleman, Theology Instructor & Director of Campus Ministry)

In recent days, many students have conveyed a sense of discomfort, even if in the comfy confines of their homes over Zoom chat rooms. For some, theology has felt more real and urgent. Many have asked great questions about the goodness of God’s nature and the injustice surrounding a virus that randomly hurts so many.
It just so happens that we are in the Judaism section of my spring World Religions’ class. As it turns out, Judaism is a profound departure from Greek and Indian religious history on many counts. First, the idea that one’s good or bad fortune is the result of karma is not a foundational belief. This is important, because this means that bad things happen to good people and vice versa. One’s good fortune is not necessarily the result of being a good person or that God favors you.

This should not surprise anyone who knows Jewish history because it is filled with so much suffering. Like few other places in World Religions, it is the Jewish tradition where we find a people who struggle with meaning amidst suffering, maintaining that God is both good and just despite the randomness of individual fortune; all the while believing in a providence that still does not infringe upon human free will. History is God’s domain, though we are always allowed to turn toward or away from God.

There are some places where the Israelites interpreted suffering as having a rational explanation. Babylonian exile, for example, is seen as a punishment for not being faithful to God’s covenant. But there are those instances where there is seemingly no point. In the face of tragic suffering, suffering that God certainly does not desire however much God allows, the Jews refused to give a quick or cheap meaning, one that might make light of the suffering and miss the point; that while God can be found in all suffering, it does not follow that God necessarily desires it or sends it. This would be akin to saying that tragedy is not actually tragic, as there is always a reason or justification.

In our own times and in the Lenten season, may we reflect upon a God who entered the human condition without turning, looking away or walling Himself off and who even experienced abandonment on the cross. May we especially embrace all those in need at this time. It is now more than ever that we can demonstrate how pro-life we are in how we treat those made most vulnerable to the outbreak; the poor, the sick, the elderly and health-care workers. Rather than form an explanation for the suffering of so many, let us stay open to God and each other, however frightening or painful, knowing full well that God did it too and continues along with us. While this is not an “answer” to random tragedy, it is in this openness that we can come to continually trust God’s goodness and providence, even in the face of it.

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