By David Murray
A widow’s first laugh can be a painful experience.
Many weeks and months of lonely sorrow have passed, and suddenly she realizes she just laughed. Maybe something she saw on TV, or someone told her a funny story, or she just laughed at a child in the mall.
“What was that? Did I just laugh? How dare I laugh when Jeff’s only been gone a month or so. What kind of person am I? What will people think of me being happy when I should be sad?”
Such guilt is multiplied when the loss and suffering involves children, painful terminal illness, or tragic loss in a traffic accident.
“How can I allow myself to be happy with so many painfully unanswered questions about evil and suffering?”
To put the question simply: “Is it OK to let happiness ease the pain of suffering, especially the pain of unanswered questions about evil?”
Perhaps surprisingly, Ritchie’s answer is “Yes!”
When we’re happy, we stop questioning – or at least our questions recede to the background. The question may still exist, and it may still exist unanswered for us. But we don’t need the answer as badly…This is sometimes how things get resolved. The universe no longer looks so dark.
He’s not saying we should follow the world in desperately seeking happiness as a way of numbing the agony and muffling the questions. No, but he is saying that if happiness does creep up on us, we should let it in with gratitude and worship
Although this seems to be a superficial and trivial answer to the problem of suffering and evil, Ritchie argues that we should embrace such happiness as a taster of what God will ultimately do when he abolishes all suffering and evil.
In the short run, having evil fade when happiness comes is a sign and shape of the final answer. When God wipes away every tear on the last day, we will be satisfied.
But what if happiness never returns? What about those who know little if anything of earthly happiness? This is not out of divine miserliness. Rather, says Ritchie, this provides “an opportunity for God to show his power later.”
The worse your lot, the bigger the challenge he will have in doing this. He will live up to it.
So, mourning friends, do not feel guilty when that first smile creases and cracks across your face. Don’t condemn yourself when the first laugh catches you by surprise. Embrace it and welcome it as an appetizer of the endless smile and forever laugh the Christian believer will experience in the eternal happiness of heaven.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, blogs at Head Heart Hand, and is author of the books Christians Get Depressed Too and How Sermons Work.