It’s the question of the ages that has gone largely unanswered: Why do bad things happen?
The past months, our world has been inundated with bad news; catastrophe after catastrophe, loss after loss, and without much explanation. We struggle to get behind the reasons for the trouble; if we could know “the why” perhaps, we reason, we could come to terms with the outcomes we are facing.
Working in Central Africa years ago in Burundi during the time of civil war, I had my first real wrangling with trying to answer that question. The violence, which began in the country’s interior, had caused a migration of thousands to the capital city, Bujumbura, where we were living and pastoring our first church. Within a few weeks of the escalation of fighting, makeshift displaced persons camps were set up in the city. Initially, those in the camps were the elderly, women, and children who had fled the violence. Of course, as the weeks and months went by, those having less than noble characters hid themselves among the innocent making their plight in the camps even worse.
Hunger gripped the city and those fleeing the violence felt it more than most. As it is with most of these types of situations, the NGOs and worldwide community took a long time to respond and it was up to the local community to react – and spring into action we did. The ladies of the church and I, there were only a few of us at the time, decided to pool our resources and cook whatever we could find for the children. At first, we thought our outreach would last only a few weeks as we hoped along with everyone else in the country that things would “cool off” and life would return to normal. Little did we know that this situation would rock on for years to come.
God blessed and we found ourselves suddenly feeding hundreds and thousands of hungry mouths. We worked to bring children’s church lessons to the children as well as finding ways to provide medical care when needed. It’s easy in these situations to get swallowed by the need and allow the pressures of the situation take a front and center position in life. After some time of being witness firsthand to the anguish felt by mothers who watched their children suffer the effects of the war, I found myself pulled into the whirlpool of “why?”
“Why, God, is this allowed to happen?” Became the mantra of my prayers, and it went largely unanswered for a long period of time.
The stress of having to find the answer to that question produced an anger in my heart that I couldn’t immediately shake. It pushed me at first to work harder, which caused me to nearly neglect my own family and health. I became exhausted and felt as if I was the “only one” who cared if the children lived or died. I went to meeting after meeting of NGOs, who by that time had tried to involve themselves in the relief effort going on in the country, and felt I was unheard by those who apparently “knew more” about the situation even though all they did was dictate how to work from their air-conditioned offices surrounded by private security. Meanwhile, the rest of us on the ground scrambled to bring what help we could to the children.
One morning, I went to the local market to purchase some food supplies and while there I saw, for the first time, stacks and stacks of food clearly marked “not for resale – for distribution only” for sale. Incensed, I reported it to the organizations responsible, but there was no change. Those items continued to be for sale in the market and no one took notice. I was disillusioned and disappointed by those saying they wanted to help but only seemed to profit from the pain of the people. It seemed no matter how hard I worked, it wasn’t enough to mean much, adding further complication to my “why?”
Once I grew tired of being angry, tired of asking why and not understanding, I surrendered to God and changed my question from “why?” to “how can I help without being swallowed?” For I came to the understanding that the answers to the “why’s” were so far-reaching that it went beyond my ability to explain:
Why do people hate one another to the point of killing those they hate and their children?
Why won’t more people help?
Why are the poor marginalized?
The answers to those questions lie within the hearts of those committing hate motivated atrocities; there’s no understanding that can be applied to hate. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and if we aren’t careful, we, too, can be “rightfully” infected with a hate for what we cannot understand and, in the end, does that make us any better than they are?
The only answer I have found for hate is love. Loving more, loving extravagantly, loving when it is easy, and when it is hard for love is an easy load to carry. Jesus never asked us to take up something we can’t bear, for He bore it all for us and what He calls us to carry is light in comparison to what this world would lay on our shoulders:
Matthew 11:29-30 NKJ “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
As time has gone on, I have learned to keep reaching out, keep caring, keep loving people even though I can’t understand the motivations behind their situations. I only carry in me a better way to live – through the love of God.
Galatians 5:6 NLT “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus…. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”