The Heuristic Value of Mystery in Relation to Suffering and Evil

Not only are God’s ways intellectually complex, they are morally profound. And, quite honestly we are not equipped with the necessary tools to grasp all that God is doing through hardship and affliction. It is because we’re not prepared for the implications of suffering and evil that God covers them in a shroud of mystery. Mystery, therefore, is God’s gift to us. It is set alongside the tools of faith and trust, which are also God’s gifts!

Is it really reasonable to expect that more knowledge or explanation will abate or even soften the blow from our psychological pain issuing from suffering and evil? The fact is, we have intellectual and psychological limitations. It is wholly unlikely, therefore, that more information will be a silver bullet or panacea. Knowing this, we can respect what others might be going through (Pr 14:10) and not try to be the strength that only faith provides or the comfort that only God gives. Our abilities to help others or even ourselves is imperfect and incomplete.

God’s ways may be inscrutable but they are not gratuitous. What seems impossible and senseless to us makes perfect sense in the plan and purposes of God. Therefore, a fuller explanation of God’s purposes may be withheld from us until such time that we are able to receive it (compare Mk 8:31-33; Lk 9:44-45 with Acts 2:23 or Gen 22 with Rom 4).

The Christian answer to the mystery of suffering and evil is not more knowledge. It is faith and trust. There’s a sense in which we’ve no right to claim “surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” until we have first embraced our walk “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23). It is in the valley of pain that we know the very presence of Christ as “Immanuel, God with us” (Mt 1:23) and feel his truth that “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

As we look into the face of evil and lean in to embrace the mystery, we find a larger vision of it all. We acknowledge the de facto, yet we set our eyes on the de jure. We experience the real, but our hearts remain fixed on the ideal. In gaining heaven’s perspective, we make sense of our earthly journey and find that the glory and goodness of God outshines it all and is the one image that sustains and remains.

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