4th Sunday of Easter Year C
The Enigma of Suffering
Why do we live in a world where people can suffer and die so suddenly – without any apparent reason? Why can there seem to be such a randomness about suffering and death?
I asked myself this question when I was at the funeral recently of a girl who was knocked down and killed by a lorry in Nottingham, in the first year of her university course there. She had done well at school, and an adult life that was full of promise was suddenly snatched away. Some of you may also remember the death in a road accident a few years ago of Nick Duffell from Alsop, someone else who was abruptly taken from his family in the cruellest of ways. Then there was the little girl shot by someone aiming to kill her step-father in a drug-related feud, mentioned again in the newspapers last week.
These are individuals. We will no doubt also remember the recent earthquakes in Bam; Gujarat; Armenian; and any number of other natural disasters which have killed large numbers of people, seemingly without reason. Or those murdered in Rwanda ten years ago; the civilians caught up in the violence in Iraq; any millions of other innocent victims of war.
In all these instances one can point to immediate causes of these people’s suffering and death – but we still cannot say why those particular people had to suffer.
Suffering and death remain shrouded in mystery, at least when we try to understand the rationale for particular people’s suffering. Since ancient times there have been those who have asked why certain people suffer more than others. In the Bible there are various examples of this:
So what does the Christian faith have to say about this problem? I would like to suggest various responses:
But of course none of these points will completely take away the sadness and sorrow of bereavement. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn?” How can we believe this? Yet I have found that some, at least, of those who have had to cope with unexpected loss have eventually emerged stronger, more aware of the gift of life that we all enjoy, less ready to take life for granted, more ready to commit our lives – and our time of death – to God in prayer and in a spirit of trust in him.
When we lose someone close to us we are driven back to the love of our family and friends, and especially to the hope that in spite of our darkness and distress we will be given the resolve and courage to carry on. We have heard in today’s gospel reading about Jesus the Good Shepherd. He is the one of whom we think whenever we say the well-known words of Psalm 23 – ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I’ll not want’ (ie we will lack nothing). Notice that we are not told that he will keep us for ever from death’s dark vale. There will come a time when this can’t be avoided. But at that moment we should not fear: ‘in death’s dark vale I fear no ill’. Let us then today hold onto the knowledge, that even if our faith is weak, God will be with us. For surely the green pastures of Derbyshire, so familiar to all of us, are a reminder of the eternal green pastures in which the Good Shepherd will lead us, if we follow him