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Death of Osama bin Laden stirs reflection on evil and suffering

On Sunday night the news came that Osama bin Laden was dead, killed in a stunning scene by American operatives in Pakistan. It was an historic day, and God’s Word makes it clear that those who inhabit thrones of self-righteousness will eventually be toppled. And those whose unrepentant hearts are bent on evil will face a judgment day. This was a long-awaited moment for many, and as President Obama said in his East Room address, “Justice has been done.”

Remembering 9/11

I remember leaving my office early that September 2001 day to wait at the bus stop for our two older children, Anders and Ella. Living in a suburb of Boston, the city where two of the hijacked planes originated that fateful morning, the fear was especially heightened.

Anders and Ella’s public school refrained from making any announcements about planes crashing. After all, any one of their classmates could have had a mother or father flying out of Boston’s Logan Airport that morning.

Over the balance of the day, we talked as a family about good and evil, keeping an eye on the developing stories with a profound sense of disbelief. Paula and I prayed as fervently as ever that night as we went to bed.

Reality of evil

That day shouted to the world that evil is real and indiscriminate. This was brought dramatically to my attention again this week with the killing of bin Laden.

May you also remember that amidst this evil, we have a God who is sovereign and wholly good, and he created a good world. As humans, we rebelled against that goodness, wanting to live outside of God’s basic plan for us. That rebellion is sin, and sin has brought about suffering and pain and a world subject to evil, both moral and natural. All suffering is connected to this reality.

The Bible tells of how God acts to turn around the terrible effects of suffering and the root of it all, i.e., sin. If indeed our sin deserves God’s wrath (since sin is so antithetical to his nature) and we face suffering (consequences of our rebellion), we will not be able to ask God why he let this happen. Instead we must recognize that, because of our sin, we have forfeited the right to expect a life without suffering.

Suffering a result of the fall

Suffering does not discriminate. People of all faiths died on 9/11. Children die from war or birth defects. Car accidents take the lives of Sunday school teachers. Hard working fathers lose jobs and file bankruptcy. Job certainly didn’t “deserve” in human terms the plagues that beset him.

If we see suffering as necessarily a direct punishment or retribution for an individual’s sin or if we see sickness as merely a lack of faith in God’s healing power, we are missing the point. Suffering is the result of the fall, the consequence of sin, so we should not be surprised when suffering happens, as personally grievous as it may be.

Still, suffering seems so often to be unfair. But it is fair in that God is just in his nature, exercising justice by allowing sin and evil to lead to their consequences of suffering and death (Gen. 2:17, Rom. 6:23).

We saw one of those consequences interrupt the evening news Sunday night.

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