suffer the little children

In my first few days at the Hospital of Hope, I witnessed  a 10-year-old die of malaria and a 5-month-old baby girl seize to death from tetanus.  (Togo doesn't have pediatric vaccines, and the baby girl had contracted tetanus after her mom pierced her ears.)

The following Friday morning, the staff met for morning devotions.  That morning, the topic was theodicy -- the philosophy of  God and suffering. 

The doctors went around the circle and offered their own opinions and thoughts about the topic. Most of them had a Calvinistic theology in which God is God, and therefore he is justified in doing whatever he does, and doesn't ever owe us an explanation.  But from the little we can understand, the doctors suggested, sometimes God uses suffering to make us stronger, and sometimes God uses suffering to punish us for sin.

“How about you, Sarah? What do you think?” one of them asked me.

I hadn’t slept well for the past few nights, because every time I closed my eyes, I saw a weeping woman walking away from the hospital with a dead 5-month-old baby girl tied to her back and a grieving father stumble out of the hospital with his son's limp, lifeless body in his arms.

I wasn’t in the mood for a theological discussion that morning, but a dozen people were waiting for me to answer the question, so I forced myself to say something.

“Here’s the bottom line,” I said, feeling frustrated and annoyed and tired. “There’s a lot I don’t understand, and a lot of things I don’t pretend to know. But I do know this: God is a loving parent whose heart breaks even more than ours does at the suffering people endure. What do I think? I think God’s heartbroken.”

Without even realizing what I was doing, I crashed my fist onto the table and said loudly, “I think God—is—devastated.”

And then I excused myself from the table and ran to my room. Once the door was closed behind me, I sank down to the floor with my face in my hands, and I wept angry tears.

Why does God allow suffering? That’s the question we like to ask. The question we use to get our brain tied up in theological knots. The question we argue about. The question everyone wants to know the answer to when suffering happens.

But I realized that morning that it’s not the question I care about.

Because it’s too easy to blame God for allowing suffering to happen, when it’s really we who are allowing atrocities to happen to other human beings.

We—especially the people who live in the developed world—are the ones who find it so easy to use the money, access, and opportunities we have to make ourselves insulated, ignorant, numb, obese, isolated, and distracted while people in other parts of our town, or other parts of our country, or other parts of our world, are suffering.

We are the ones who buy in to the lie that there’s nothing we can do to help people who are homeless or unable to pay their bills or unable to find clean water. We are the ones who are selfish and lazy, and we are the ones who allow suffering to continue.

Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” But instead, we let little children suffer, and often die, from tetanus and malaria and cholera and starvation -- while we spend money on tummy tucks and SUVs and laser tag and ten-thousand-square-foot houses and venti Frappuccinos and forty-dollar T-shirts and mani-pedis and Xbox games and cruises and martinis and all-you-can-eat buffets.

Why does God allow suffering to happen in this world?

I didn’t know that morning. As I’m writing this months later, I still don’t know. And maybe I never will. To be quite honest, I don’t care all that much.

What I really wanted to know that morning in Togo, and what I still want to know today, is the answer to a different question. Not, Why does God allow suffering?

But, Why do we?