Waiting Room Theodicy

–Dr. Garry K. Brantley

I’ve been in plenty of waiting rooms in my ministerial life. I’ve been there for pastoral reasons, walking with fellow brothers and sisters as they wait anxiously for medical updates on the progress of the one they love. I’ve also been there with personal family members, praying for God’s intervention and, ultimately, his perfect will to occur.

While in the waiting rooms of these critical areas, you see and hear a lot of things. One one occasion, I overheard one particular conversation in which two men were discussing their loved one’s medical condition. After discussing her serious, medical status, their conversation turned to theology.

“My preacher told me that God was in control of everything and that for some reason beyond our comprehension, He’s put her in this shape. I just don’t know about that,” the son of the woman said with eyes heavy with tears. “No, I don’t agree with that,” her brother interjected. He began to provide his particular understanding of theodicy–explaining suffering in light of the existence of God. Eventually I joined the conversation and enjoyed my discussion with these men of obvious faith, and deep hurt.

I really don’t remember all the theological points that were discussed, because they ultimately didn’t matter that much. I remember making some reference to C.S. Lewis’ work after cancer caused the untimely death of Joy, his wife. Prior to that emotional experience, Lewis gave rational answers to the question of suffering. And, they were biblically centered and continue to be helpful. However, Lewis expressed his own emotional dissatisfaction with his own answers while he was in the throes of grief.

What I do remember is seeing a 53 year old, distinguished gentlemen (the woman’s brother) break down and unashamedly weep. At that moment, something happened. It was as if his grief and mine connected us at a deep level. Not even knowing the man’s name, I walked over and embraced him. “I’m so sorry about your sister,” I whispered in his ear. “I don’t understand all the complexities of our world; why this is happening at this moment to your sister. This I do know–God is not unaffected by your grief. He weeps with you.” “I never thought of God weeping with me,” he said. “Strangely, that thought helps.”

In the end, theological systems and biblical concepts are insufficient for the hurting soul. And, thank God that’s not what He offers. The biblical text, rather than a sterile list of do’s and don’t’s from a cosmic despot, is His self-disclosure to a creation He desperately loves. He enters our struggles. He both touches and is touched by us. He has become vulnerable to our rejection of Him. The world is not as God intends. At least not yet. As Paul describes in Romans 8, the entire creation is groaning, awaiting ultimate redemption–the ultimate moment when God’s redemptive work is consummated. At that moment, God will cup our cheeks in His holy hands and wipe the tears away. Until then, God uses His body to embrace the hurting, and mingles His tears with theirs. Somehow in those holy moments, healing begins. Such is the nature of waiting room theodicy.