Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stories of Peace and Suffering

Note: This entry was actually written a couple of weeks ago, and was intended for the Fuller Blogs site, where I contribute weekly reflections specific to the Fuller seminary community.  Unfortunately, that site has been down for some time now, and so I made arrangements last week to have this posted here today.  This past weekend, the Fuller community was hit with the news that one of our graduates and former adjuncts, Scott Adam, along with his wife and two others, were captured by Somali pirates, and the subsequent news of their deaths by the time we woke up to come to work yesterday.  I'm not sure I have anything productive to add to the discussion around that news, but obviously can't help but think of that as I revisit this piece.  Please continue to pray for the families of those involved.

At about 10:30 am, on the morning of February 2nd, Fuller was honored to welcome Lloyd Ogilvie as he began preaching a sermon for our regular Wednesday morning chapel service.  Ogilvie spoke about the gift of God’s peace, and as one of my co-workers later suggested, there wasn’t a dry eye in her row.

At about 10:30 am that same Wednesday morning, a janitor at Louisiana Schnell Elementary School in Placerville, CA, walked into the principal’s office, raised a weapon, and shot him.  The principal died within hours.

No children were physically harmed in this tragedy.  But I expect that they feel considerably less at peace today than they used to.

While it’s a sad truth that this particular shooting is just another one of a distressingly long line of similar stories that have told over the past several years, this one has stayed in my mind especially.  My parents grew up in Placerville.  Most of my extended family lives there.  In fact, when I go to visit my grandparents’ house, the exit I take to get off of CA-50 to get there is “Schnell School Road.”  I moved around a lot as a child, and so although I’ve never lived permanently in Placerville myself, that city, and my grandparents’ home in particular, is perhaps the single most stable ground I’ve ever known.  And this heinous act took place just a matter of blocks from there.

Obviously, such reminders of the existence of evil in our world stand in stark contrast to the message of God’s peace that we heard from Dr. Ogilvie in Chapel.  It’s not that Christians don’t acknowledge such evil.  Believers have been wrestling with what we sometimes call “the problem of evil” for pretty much the entirety of human history.  When we try to preach messages of God’s peace, I suppose it can sound a lot like we’re trying to ignore those less pleasant realities, and indeed a lot of non-Christians (specifically, ones who’ve seen a lot of suffering) often look at us like we don’t know what we’re talking about.  They wouldn’t be too far off to use Jeremiah’s words (directed to false prophets) against us:
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14, NIV)
I don’t think it has to be that way.  Indeed, Ogilvie’s message of peace was so profound for so many of us precisely because we know how badly we need that peace for ourselves in the midst of a world where so many of the realities around us seem so very un-peaceful.  But if there were nothing more than the fact that we need to hear it so badly, we might still be rightly accused of being delusional.

For this reason, I am extremely thankful that God’s revelation to us doesn’t whitewash the realities of pain and suffering.  Instead, we are shown story after story about how God’s people lived through tremendous hardship.  We learn about the sufferings of David, and of Paul, and of the prophets, and I could go on and on.  But the Bible also shows us how those same people write about or preach the existence of God’s peace in their lives.  The same David that grieves the loss of his children, for example, writes Psalms describing his solace in the promises of God.  This testimony helps us to know that God’s peace is not just some fantasy, but that it actually has worked, and continues to work, in people’s lives.  God’s peace has power that penetrates beyond the power of evil, pain, and suffering.  And so even though we are still regularly confronted with tragic events like the Placerville shooting, we are not without hope.

We will never be free from suffering this side of heaven, but thankfully that is not the end of our story.  God grants us peace.  Both now and in the age to come.

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