When my life was wrecked by cancer and divorce in the same year, I seriously began to question the justice of God. When my pastor insisted that in His sovereignty God was the author of both my faith and my suffering, I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with a god who would purposely wreck someone’s life just to show how powerful he was. Or who thinks brutality is a good way to build righteous character.
The most visceral picture I could draw from was the story of Shasta Groene who was kidnapped and abused as an 8 year old girl from my hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I couldn’t imagine anyone standing by in that house while Duncan did what he did to her family. Yet God could. And somehow this was supposed to be for Shasta’s good?
Any one of us would have attempted to stop Duncan. If a cop was there and did nothing, he would lose his job at the least. So how could an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent God be there and do nothing?
When I raged about this in my journal, God responded by saying, “Todd, I weep just as hard for the criminal as I do for the victim, the full scope of which you cannot conceive.”
And He was right. It would take another year and a half of walking through recovery with a dear friend, followed by four more years working with numerous inmates (the perpetrators) who had lived through their own wrecked stories, before I could begin to understand this kind of love. Through those years I learned that there is nothing this world can do to you, or that you can do to yourself, that God cannot resurrect you from. He is the resurrection and the life. In the rooms of AA and the halls of prison, I got a glimpse of a love bigger and deeper than I could understand, a love that recognizes, as Morgan Guyton writes in his article, Surprised by Mercy:
“Every oppressor is also a victim, and our victimhood is impossible to untangle from our oppression.”
It is a love capable of both restoring Shasta and redeeming Duncan. A love that holds back brutal justice as an act of mercy, desiring at all cost that Duncan might be saved. A love capable of such mercy because it knows that it is also capable of resurrecting and restoring Shasta from the deepest, darkest depths of depravity that evil could ever take her.
He is the resurrection and the life.
In that moment when an all-powerful, all-loving God stands by and lets atrocity happen, He dares to ask of the victim to suffer the evil so that it will be brought into the light. Only in the light can that evil be condemned or redeemed.
God promises us restoration and justice, but what justice could He enact if no crime were committed? What accountability could He uphold if a man with murder in his heart was simply never allowed to act on it? How could that man be held accountable? More importantly, how could he be redeemed? If no one suffered the consequences of sin, then how would we know it to be sin? How would we know our desperate plight and need for a savior? (Romans 7:7-13)
Is it enough, though? Am I satisfied with this answer in the face of all the atrocities of mankind? Can I find peace in the face of suffering knowing that enduring evil is the only way to bring it to the light, and only in the light that it can be judged or redeemed? Shall I carry on sinning that the grace of God may abound? Lord, save me!
Perhaps this is what it means to take up our cross and follow Him. We are called to endure with understanding the evils and atrocities of this world, because only by enduring it can we bring it to the light, and only in the light can we be redeemed.
Jay Westbrook says it well from the point of view of both victim and criminal. In his article, “God Could…and Would if Sought“, he tells the story of being physically and sexually abused as a child, medicating his suffering with drugs and alcohol, and ending up in prison where he was gang raped for the duration of his incarceration. Despite acquiring an education and much professional success after being released from prison, Westbrook was ready to kill himself to end his inner suffering. Fortunately, he called a 12-step program for help instead. Here, he learned to trust a high power on his journey to sobriety, but this was no easy task. He writes:
“My first God in sobriety was just the ‘Group Of Drunks’ in my 12-Step meeting. Then God became the mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love in my heart. At the same time, I moved into bedside End-of-Life [hospice] work, and it quickly and undeniably became clear that the place where life and death meet is filled with God.
“I acquired many Buddhist tools to use in my work, but continued to seek a personal God that ‘worked’ for me, given my childhood, incarceration, and other experiences.
“I finally found a God, one who is omnipresent and all loving, but who does not intervene, a God who designed us perfectly, but gave us free will, a God who co-journeys with me and who co-suffers with me, a God who looked at me being raped as a child and wept at my suffering, but who also looked at my rapists and wept just as hard at their suffering, at each of them having moved so far from His Grace. This God resonated with me, made sense in light of my experiences, and allowed a deeply personal relationship. I know today that God created me with everything I needed for resiliency, and created my rapists with everything they needed for redemption; I pray they reached for it. I know I did.”
We may be offended by a love that allows atrocity, but it’s this very love that also allows for redemption, and even makes a way for it. Fear would avoid suffering, running and hiding from it in weakness. But this love has no fear. This love dares to use brokenness to multiply blessing.
Have you encountered this love on your journey? Would you be willing to share some of your story? You can sign up for our newsletter, message me, or leave a comment below. You can also join us on Facebook at On Journey Together.
Buen Camino, my friends.
To the end, to the truth.