When we suffer, which we will, there will often be mystery. Will there also be faith?
In Christian thought, faith is never naïve or gullible, but rather relies on the strength of its object. Faith that depends on a God who is a cruel tyrant or cheap trickster will be bitterly disappointed in the end.
When Christians think seriously about evil and suffering, one of the paramount reasons we’re certain God can be trusted is because he sent his Son to suffer in our place. The One for whom we live knows what suffering is about—not merely in the way he knows everything, but by experience.
When we’re convinced we’re suffering unjustly, however, we may cry out for justice. We want God to be just and exonerate us immediately; we want God to be fair and mete out suffering immediately to those who deserve it.
We Make Assumptions
The trouble with such justice and fairness, though, is that, if it were truly just and truly fair and as prompt as we demand, we would soon be begging for mercy, for love, for forgiveness — for anything but justice. For very often what I really mean when I ask for justice is implicitly circumscribed by three assumptions, assumptions not always recognized:
1. I want this justice to be dispensed immediately.
2. I want justice in this instance, but not necessarily in every instance.
3. I presuppose that in this instance I have grasped the situation correctly.
We need to examine these three assumptions. First, the Bible assures us that God is a just God, and that justice will be done in the end, and will be seen to be done. But when we urgently plead for justice, we usually mean something more than that. We mean we want vindication now! Second, to ask for such instantaneous justice in every instance is inconceivable: it would too often find me on the wrong side, too often find me implicitly inviting my own condemnation. But justice instantaneously applied only when it favors me is not justice at all. Selective justice that favors one individual above another is simply another name for corruption. And no one wants a corrupt God. And third, when I plead so passionately for justice, it’s usually because I think I understand the situation pretty well. I wouldn’t be quite so crass as actually to say I need to explain it to God, but that is pretty close to the way I act.