How are we to respond when we hear tragic news or when we experience something devastating? Earlier this week I found out that the younger brother of a college student I know had passed away. The brother was nineteen years old. The natural, gut reaction to news like this is visceral. It is a mix of “Why?” and “This shouldn’t have happened!” But for many of us, myself included, theology often catches up to instinct and says “Yeah, but God is sovereign” as if this is more true than out first reaction. This theological realization stands in direct opposition to the emotional response. Are we sit back and think that all is ok, then?
I don’t think so. Too often God’s omnipotence is used as to suppress the emotion, the rightful human instincts of grief and outrage. When a young man dies it’s right to say “he died too young” even as we mentally assent to God appointing his days. When horrendous events happen the visceral cries of “Why?” and “No!” are the right ways to respond. Anything less makes us less than human.
In these times of wracking grief it is the reality of God’s sovereignty that keeps us sane, keeps us afloat in our faith. But it is the grief itself that keeps us human and humane. These two realities exist in an inexplicable, symbiotic tension. Without knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty we risk a spiral of hopeless insanity. Without the reality of it-should-not-be-like-this grief we risk losing all connection to what God made us as human beings. With an over-emphasis on sovereignty we become emotionally retarded as we lose the ability to feel and acknowledge real human experience. With an over-emphasis on the emotion, the grief, we wallow in a La Brea tar pit of godless grief.
God is sovereign, yes. But a nineteen year old still shouldn’t die. God didn’t make him to die at nineteen either – not originally. God made the world with no death, and then we screwed it up. We broke it. See, it’s not supposed to be this way. Over all this brokenness is a God, a good God, who is in charge of all things including life and death. And in his sovereignty things happen that shouldn’t happen. There isn’t any riddling this out in way that works for human minds. For many (most?) people that is intellectually unacceptable so they either consider God less than sovereign or the world just as it should be in the hands of a holy God.
Neither of these options works biblically or according to human experience. A tension exists, polar truths creating a present reality. God is good. It shouldn’t be this way. God is sovereign. Bad things happen. It is only if we learn to live in this tension that we will be able to optimally function in both positions of comforting and needing comfort. It will feel like a tug-o-war in the soul at times, a yanking back and forth. But it is far worse if one side tugs and there is no other side. Sometimes the pull feels like it will tear us apart, but so it must be in a world that isn’t as it should be.