By Dr. Jeffrey K. London
Two bombs exploded in Boston raining/reigning down death and destruction. Wolves among the sheep make shepherding difficult. Yet even under the weight of wolves Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all….” (10:27-29).
We find comfort in these words of Jesus, and then again we might not. I mean, if it’s your loved ones who died, your child who died, your friend who was maimed — suddenly you have more questions than answers the age old questions rise up in a swirl of emotion and immediacy:
• If God is really in charge, why does He allow such horrible things to happen?
• If God truly stands in opposition to evil, why does He permit evil to exist at all?
• If God really is all-powerful and omnipotent, why doesn’t He act to save the lives of the innocent?
• Jesus promised no sheep would be snatched from His hand. What happened?
These are the wrestling questions of faith. There are answers to these questions but most grieving people usually find such answers to be inadequate and unfulfilling. So maybe the answers we’re looking for are those that speak more to the heart than to the intellect. Truth be told, there is no “explaining” why two brothers thought it was a good idea to kill and maim innocent people by planting bombs in the midst of a large crowd. There is no “explanation” that would lead us to say, “Oh, now I understand. That makes sense.”
But we still struggle with God’s role in all of this. Does God’s apparent inactivity, God’s lack of intervention, make God complicit? What possible good could come from all of this?
Our hearts know and trust the God we have experienced most fully in Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle to understand. That doesn’t mean we don’t shake a fist at God? That doesn’t mean we don’t continue asking the tough questions.
What it means is that in our hearts we trust; we in the promises of a God who came among us in Jesus Christ for the sole purpose of defeating sin and death. Because of God’s work in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin and death. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, we know, we believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God somehow, some way, defeated death. It’s not that we don’t still experience death, we are mortal after all. Rather it’s that death is no longer the final word. There is life beyond death, Jesus calls it “eternal life.” In a strange way we can say that in the resurrection of
Jesus God redeemed death, He re-created death and made it into life. This is the heart hope we share with the grieving. We don’t ever deny the pain and anger grieving people feel when they are forced to stand at the threshold of death. The emotions are real. But so is the promise, the promise of eternal
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Jesus proclaims Himself a shepherd, a good shepherd, whose sheep know His voice. But upon closer examination we discover that the only reason the sheep know the good shepherd is because He knows them. Jesus initiates the relationship. Jesus knows His sheep. He knows you and He knows me — and that is why we are here today. And I believe with every fiber in my body that Jesus also knows those who died in Boston, He knows the maimed and hurt. He holds us all in the palm of His hand.
It’s a fascinating metaphor. We tend to hold the most precious things in our hands:
•We hold tightly the hands of children when crossing the street.
•Often when we pray we hold hands.
•When we pass the peace we grasp hands.
•When we have something valuable we hold it carefully — in our hands
Jesus says He’s clutching us, His sheep, in His hand. He seeks to protect us, shelter us, safeguard us for eternal life. But that does not mean we are shielded from the trials and tribulations of living; we are not shielded from the world we live in, the very world God entered into in the person of Jesus Christ. No, we are called to live in this world as sheep of Jesus’ flock. That means we look to God in times of great crisis, the very God who calls us to live into a hope that constantly reminds us that we are known, we are cherished, we are priceless, and we have been rescued for eternal life.
Knowing that we are known; believing that we are saved for eternal life — frees us to persevere in faith. We continue to ask the tough questions (most of which have to with the reality of evil), but we find solace in knowing that we have been saved for eternal life; knowing that our existence in this world is temporary but our life in God is eternal. Knowing these things to be true is an act of faith and faith is what we have to offer the hurting and grieving. For many of us this can be a hard thing to do, because to enter into the suffering of others is to shoulder the burden, it is to be a co-sufferer after the example of Jesus Christ who suffered with and for sheep like you and me.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. We’re not saying that suffering is good. Rather, we are saying that suffering is a part of our existence and that through the redeeming power of love we do not suffer alone. We are held tightly in the hand of the Good Shepherd who has promised us that no one or no thing can ever snatch us away from the divine grasp.
Holocaust survivor Ellie Wiesel, in his book Night, tells the story of witnessing a young boy being hanged at a concentration camp in front of all the prisoners for a minor infraction of the camp rules. As his body dangled from a rope, Wiesel was asked by the man standing next to him, “Where is God now?” Weisel heard a voice deep within him reply, “Where is God? Here he is. He is hanging here on this gallows.”1
Because Jesus knows us and has claimed us as sheep of his own flock — God chooses to suffer with us. God joins in and participates in all our suffering. We may not be able to adequately answer all the questions of the ages regarding the persistence of evil, but we can be certain of this: God has spoken in Jesus Christ and has proclaimed,
“I know ewe.
All of you.
You are mine.
I love you and I have saved you for eternal life.
I am with you here and now
and in the age to come
and you will never be snatched from my hand.”
So in light of this most recent tragedy, should someone ask you, “Where is God.” Tell them, “He is there. Bleeding and dying on the streets of Boston. He is here grieving and weeping amidst our own pain and suffering. He is wherever His sheep are found, sharing in and offering up a love so profound that not even death can over come it.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible