This Christmas season the words of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day resound with renewed significance: There is no peace on earth...for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men. In the wake of this devastating tragedy our voices echo the despair penned by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
During Advent Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world as a babe born of the Virgin Mary. The prophet Isaiah hails the Christ child as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Yet we look at our world today and see little evidence of peace. The horrific shooting of innocent children and educators last Friday serves as another painful reminder of the absence of peace. If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, then where’s the promised peace?
The day of the ghastly shooting, a friend more or less asked this question of me via social media. Her question, albeit legitimate, is a familiar and longstanding refrain of humanity seeking an explanation in response to human tragedy. We ask: Why did God allow such a tragic event to occur?
That cry of protest, surprisingly, is heard throughout the biblical narrative from the lips of men and women of faith. Psalm 10 is one such example. The Psalm opens with a question, “Why O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” After several verses lamenting the pride and prosperity of the wicked the psalmist states: He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes steadily watch for the helpless.... The helpless are crushed, sink down and fall by his might” (Ps. 10: 8, 10).
On Friday, the reality of the Psalm was played out—evil preyed upon helpless, innocent children. We too, raise our voices in protest with the Psalmist and ask why, God, do you stand afar off?
God has chosen to answer in the form of a person rather than in prose. One of the astounding and comforting truths of Christmas is that God came near—He wrapped himself in human skin and thus joined frail humanity. Jesus left the luxuries of heaven to experience misery on earth. On the cross, Jesus became the helpless, innocent victim of Psalm 10 who experienced the crushing weight of wickedness.
The incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ demonstrate that God is not distant and aloof from our suffering. No—God chose to involve himself in our suffering. He chose to suffer with us and for us. The late theologian John Stott confessed in The Cross of Christ, “I could never believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One whom Nietzsche ridiculed as the ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” When I ponder the “God on the cross” I am confronted with another question: Why in the world did Jesus choose to suffer for us ungrateful, unruly, despicable misfits who have wreaked and continue to wreak havoc in this world? This too is a fair question with which we must also wrestle.
Suffering was not the last chapter in Jesus’ life, however. If His story ended there then we are all destined for misery and despair together. His resurrection is the guarantee that suffering need not have the final word in our lives. His resurrection provides enduring hope that peace will one day indeed reign on a renewed earth filled with redeemed humanity. When I view tragedies like the one in Newtown through the lens of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, my tenacious protest is transformed—hope begins to slowly dispel my despair, erase my doubt, and console the storm of anxiety within my soul.
We presently live not yet seeing peace reigning (Hebrews 2:9). This is a disparity the Bible fully recognizes. As Jesus deity was veiled in humanity so His present reign is veiled. What is currently veiled will one day be unveiled for all to see: "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on the earth, good-will to men."
Tim Zuck is the Pastor of Saucon Community Bible Fellowship Church in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. After a brief career as a chef, he enrolled in biblical and theological studies at Lancaster Bible College and furthered his education at Biblical Theological Seminary. He enjoys drinking coffee, talking with skeptics, spending time with his family, and cooking. He is married to Victoria and has two sons, Dylan and Adam. He resides in Hellertown.