The Confident Christian
2/2/14 at 12:33 PM 1 Comments

The Worst Friday Night Ever

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January has not been a good month.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday night, I traveled about an hour away to attend the visitation for my friend’s granddaughter who died of a brain tumor. She was only nine.

The next day, I traveled in the opposite direction to visit a wonderful couple I know. The husband (early fifties) was in the final stages of liver cancer. He died the following week and I spoke at his funeral. They had only been married a few years.

About a week later, I got the word that a magnificent woman (early 40’s) in our church had succumbed to lung cancer. She is a well-known Bible teacher, conference speaker, writer, and has worked tirelessly to help struggling couples rebuild their marriages. She left behind a loving pastor husband and four teenage children. If ever there was a case of putting to rest the false teaching that you only have to exhibit strong faith for God to heal you, this was it.

These losses devastated each family and were particularly difficult on me for two reasons. First, my family had been praying for a long time that God would graciously heal each of them, but in a matter of weeks all were gone.

Second, it opened some old personal wounds for me. Many years ago I watched my wife die very young of cancer leaving me alone to raise our baby daughter, so I knew full well what each husband, wife, and parent was feeling.

What Would It Take?

When I debate atheists and skeptics on the topic of Christianity, I always ask them the question: what would it take for you to believe in Christ? Because of that, they will sometimes (quite fairly, I might add) ask me this in return: what would it take for you to disbelieve?

The short answer is the same one Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15. If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:14). Ergo, if the Nazarene carpenter’s body is ever unearthed, I would be forced to discard my Christian faith and pursue something else.

But I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit that months like January distress me and cause me difficulty. They don’t cause me to doubt God’s existence, but rather the struggle is an existential one of reconciling God’s goodness with the seemingly random, meaningless tragedies that visit people. Watching wonderful people die young while Hugh Hefner dances with playboy bunnies into his eighties is rather puzzling and brings to mind David’s lament: “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. . . .This is what the wicked are like— always carefree” (Psalm 73:3-5, 12).

Of course, this is the age-old wrestling match of theodicy and something endlessly debated by theologians as well as both Christian and secular philosophers such as Plantinga, Hume, Mill, and many others. On this topic, I’ve both written and delivered theological papers[1] and presentations[2] for the intellectual problem of evil/God and know how to present convincing arguments very well in defense of Christianity’s position on the subject.

So, to me, the intellectual problem of evil isn’t that difficult to overcome. In fact, Peter Van Inwagen says, "It used to be widely held that evil was incompatible with the existence of God: that no possible world contained both God and evil. So far as I am able tell, this thesis is no longer defended."[3]

But let’s be honest: the emotional problem of evil is a tough one to endure, especially when it personally touches you on the shoulder. Emotionally we struggle to connect the dots with a Creator who claims to be a loving Father of mercy (2 Cor. 1:3) and apparent heartless episodes of suffering and grief that befall those He claims to care about (1 Pet. 5:7).

In such situations, we look Heavenward and either loudly or under or breath (depending on how brazen we feel at the moment) utter a complaint similar to Habakkuk’s: “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ yet You do not save” (Hab. 1:2).

When I feel overcome by watching evil takes its toll on good people and find myself nodding in agreement with Habakkuk, I solidify the ground under my shifting feet by remembering what had to be the worst Friday night ever.

The Night of Weeping

When you have a terrible tragedy occur in your life, the first night is oftentimes the worst. You sit somewhat dazed and are enveloped in a grip of raw sensitivity and loneliness no matter how many people are around you.

We aren’t told much about what happened on the Friday night after Jesus’ crucifixion. The Bible provides a few details about His burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, the women who saw watched over the event, but nothing more.

What happened later that night? What do you think was going through the disciple’s heads?

By all accounts, another good person had fallen victim to the evil in the world. The corrupt religious leadership and Roman authorities had won, and Jesus had lost, and lost big time. A man who had done nothing but good to those around Him was experiencing the glass-half-empty attitude of ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.

“Unfair!”

“Where was God?”

I’d say it’s a safe bet that the same things we say today when tragedy strikes were said back then, but the pain, grief, and confusion was likely magnified many times over. They’d seen Jesus do incredible things, teach like no one ever had, and deliver unrivaled love and kindness.

And that’s how God treats Him?

That’s just not how our mind operates and not what we anticipate from God. We want and expect something much different.

The whole thing reminds of a brief exchange in a movie starring a man that has shockingly been overlooked many times for an Academy award – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In “End of Days”, Arnold plays a cop whose wife and child were murdered by the mob. He finds himself trying to protect a woman being pursued by the devil who wants to sire the Antichrist with her. In a one-on-one exchange with Arnold, the devil shows him a vision and tells him he can give him his family back. When Arnold brings up God, the devil says:

“You're on His side? He's the one who took away your family. Let me tell you something about Him. He is the biggest underachiever of all time. He just had a good publicist, that's all. Something good happens: ‘It's His will‘. Something bad happens: ‘He moves in mysterious ways’. You take that...that overblown press kit they call the Bible. You look for the answer in there, what do they tell you? ‘$^&#@ happens.’ Please. He treated you like garbage.”

“Like garbage” describes how the Romans treated non-Romans condemned to death, and with the beatings, scourging, mocking, injustice, and crucifixion, few would argue that such a phrase seems to describe how Jesus was treated at the time.

That being the case, there’s little doubt about it – that night had to be the worst Friday night ever for those He left behind. They didn’t know what we know today, didn’t understand Jesus’ many statements to them about His resurrection, and didn’t have the end of the story.

The Morning of Joy

A few days later, a couple of Jesus’ followers were still stinging from what happened, on their way to Emmaus and “were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place” (Luke 24:14). “These things” included a report about Jesus’ body being missing and angels that said He’d risen from the dead.

The part about Jesus being humiliated and murdered – they believed that. But the report of coming back from the dead? Nope. That’s why Luke tells us that when a Stranger approached them and asked what they were talking about, they stood there looking skythrōpos, which in the Greek literally means ‘dark and gloomy’.

Their Friday night was still going on.

But then the Stranger became their Tutor in the Scriptures, explained to them God’s Plan for all the tragedy they’d seen, and showed them all the good that had been redeemed from the darkness. The fact was, evil hadn’t won at all and now they understood why God allowed things to happen the way they did.

Before, the disciples didn’t know God’s plan and I’m sure they were every bit as bruised and in anguish over how God seemed to be absent that Friday evening. Sometimes God shows us His plan in three days and other times we have to wait much longer to know why He’s allowed things to occur.

Make no mistake, losing those three wonderful people in January to sickness and disease still hurts and leaves me a little bewildered. In a very real way, it’s still Friday night because we have no answers and don’t see any goodness at all in what happened.

Yet.

It sounds very cliché to say, but in the end, it does come down to trust and faith in a God whose ways are not our ways. As Habakkuk says later in his book, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4).

When horrible things happen and we just can’t put the puzzle pieces together, I think about what Thomas Aquinas said where learning about and trusting God are concerned even when things don’t make sense at the time:

“He who would become educated should begin by trusting his teacher. He will never master his science unless he presumes in the beginning that the doctrine being presented is true even if, for the moment, he cannot tell why.”



[3] Peter Van Inwagen, "The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence,Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion,ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing, 1991),pg. 135.

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