The Mystery and Disaster of Life

Aberfan, tsunami, famine and other natural and human disasters raise the inevitable question, ‘How can a loving God allow this to happen?’ Since the martyr St Stephen’s Day, and in the wake of the tsunami, TV journalists have besieged victims with this question. Maybe they would have asked Saul of Tarsus, had they witnessed the stoning of Stephen. Too often it revealed an anti-God stance or exposed a simplistic understanding of his providence.

The Problem of Good

… belief that God is almighty and all-loving is strained for the sensitive Christian until he goes on to see the divine way of dealing with suffering in the Cross of Christ … It is an answer which is not speculative, but practical, for it is an answer that is valid only when something like the spirit of Christ has been translated into human lives – lives which show what can be made of human suffering in terms of heroic saintliness. Such lives are faith’s most powerful witnesses, for just when the problem of evil oppresses us they assault us with the problem of good. Faith is a costly thing, valid only in terms of the challenge to a costly way of life. Those who possess it have found it to be not an escape from life’s conflicts, but a way of meeting those conflicts with the certainty that the power of God and of goodness will prevail. [Duggan, ed. Through the Year with Michael Ramsey, p.39]

In a Sunday Times article, Ramsey wrote that two facts, ‘Calvary’ and ‘the Saints’, must be allowed to make the difference they can make. Calvary brings the conviction of a creator not aloof but sharing in the conflict of his creatures and using suffering in the omnipotence of love. The Saints show us the spirit of Calvary caught in human lives which show suffering transformed in love, sympathy, creativity that is part of the mystery of life and includes not only the problem of evil but ‘the astonishing problem of good’. [Canterbury Pilgrim, p.51].

Spearhead of Relevance

Is there within or beyond our suffering and frustrated universe any purpose, way, meaning, sovereignty? … there is purpose, way, meaning, sovereignty; and the death and resurrection of Jesus portray it as living through dying, as losing self to find self, as the power of sacrificial love. To commit oneself to this way is to be near the secret of God’s own sovereignty, near to the power which already wins victories over evil, and will ultimately prevail. That is the point at which Jesus can be shown to be near to our own world. [Duggan, Ibid, p.238].

Scenes of personal suffering are the daily involvement of doctors and priests:

When the doctor recalls the people he has known as patients, I suppose he may think of some as his successes – those whose health was restored against odds and obstacles – in contrast with others where disease or injury proved insuperable, and success was not attained.

Yet I believe that, as time passes and the doctor looks back upon the patients he has known, some of those he will remember most vividly, and with deep respect and reverence, will be men and women who were not ‘successes’ in medicine or health, for the cure did not come easily, or perhaps never came at all. And yet there was something in them never to be forgotten: patience, sympathy, sensitivity, unworldliness: in a word – saintliness.

This saintliness goes with the power of so using suffering – when it cannot be removed – that it becomes creative in the wonderful things of character. Such people show a kind of dimension in the life of the world, which does not fit our ideas of success, or health, or progress. [Duggan, Ibid, p.200]


Such vision and wisdom in Bishop Michael, could only come from a lifetime immersed in his contemplative stillness within the Transfiguration light:

Confronted as he is with a universe more than ever terrible in the blindness of its processes and the destructiveness of its potentialities mankind must be led to the Christian faith not as a panacea of progress nor as an other-worldly solution unrelated to history, but as a Gospel of Transfiguration. Such a Gospel both transcends the world and speaks to the immediate here-and-now. He who is transfigured is the Son of Man; and, as he discloses on Mount Hermon another world, he reveals that no part of created things and no moment of created time lies outside the power of the Spirit, who is Lord, to change from glory into glory. [The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ p.147]

Arthur Middleton is a Lecturer and a Writer