At 2:43 PM last Monday, I took out my iPhone and made a 13 second video of the finish line. I was standing on the northeast corner of Exeter and Boylston in Boston. My wife had completed the marathon a few minutes before, so I was taking in the atmosphere around the finish line before I went to meet up with her. I was proud of her, amazed that anyone could run 26 miles. There was no hurry, because she would be tied up for the next hour … rehydrating, getting a massage, basking in the glory of finishing the world’s most prestigious marathon. So, I sauntered slowly eastward on Boylston Street. I paused at the finish line and watched more runners cross. They were exhausted, but jubilant … and I was happy for them. Somewhere on Boylston Street, I unknowingly walked past a backpack that contained a pressure cooker filled with explosives, nails, and ball-bearings. I may have also passed Tamerlan Tsarnaev on the sidewalk, but I’ll never know that for sure. After watching a few more runners receive their medals, I decided to move on. At the next corner, a barricade forced me to take a left onto Dartmouth Street, so I headed north on Dartmouth. Probably 20 seconds after I had turned the corner, I heard a loud boom that shook the ground. I froze, not knowing what had just happened. A few seconds later, another boom, and I saw white smoke rising over the buildings. Distraught people came running around the corner. It was 2:49 PM.
In the hours that followed, I kept thinking, “God protected me. His hand was on me. I missed the explosion by a matter of minutes, so he must have led me away from the bomb site just in time.” But even as I thought these things, I wrestled with another thought; a thought that disturbed me: “Was God’s hand not also on those people who were injured or killed by the explosions? Had he deserted them?” This is one of the most difficult theological questions that can be asked. Where is God in the midst of evil and suffering? Is he only present and active in our lives when we are kept safe from harm … when we experience goodness and blessing in life? Was my safety and deliverance from harm evidence that God had guided me on Boylston Street in a way that he had not guided others? It was a haunting question. A question I couldn’t seem to answer. And then it came to me on Wednesday morning. At the risk of sounding cliché, the answer to my question is found in … Jesus. Let me explain.
Jesus, more than anyone in human history, suffered as an innocent. He, who had only demonstrated love and goodness in his life, experienced the full brunt of evil and injustice. And catch this: God’s hand was on him through it all. Jesus was perfectly at the center of the Father’s will, even when he was suffering. What does this mean for us? It means that suffering does not indicate the absence of God. It means that God is with us in the midst of suffering. Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The only reason we can know for sure that God is with us through evil and suffering is that the Son of God waded into a broken world, experienced suffering himself, and overcame it. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not eliminate all suffering now, but it does guarantee that suffering will one day be eliminated ultimately when he comes again. The death and resurrection of Jesus tells us that God has not ignored evil and suffering, but that he has done something decisively about it. God has dealt a final blow to death by raising Jesus from the dead, and one day there will be no more death and suffering.
So, if I had died or been badly injured on Monday, God would no less have been with me. My safety and security are gifts from God, for which I am most certainly thankful. But my safety and security are not the litmus test of his presence and goodness. His presence and goodness are evidenced by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who “took up our pain and bore our suffering (Isaiah 53:4).” Make no mistake: What happened in Boston is evil and we should weep over it. I am grieving with those who suffered on Boylston Street. And I am also praying for them. Part of my prayer for them is that they would know that God is with them. That, in the midst of their suffering, they would experience his presence in a way that maybe they never have before. That they would be joined to Jesus by faith, and along with Jesus they would experience this promised reality: “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11).”