When the late Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in four feature films in the 1970s and 80s, was paralysed in a horse-riding accident, he struggled to find meaning in the mess. Well-meaning Christians frequently sent him letters, encouraging him to reflect on the Superman mythos as an analogy for the gospel message and to find hope in it. Try as he might, he simply could not find hope in the darkness.
One day, he stumbled on a solution that provided him some solace. He found this solution in Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
In 1977, Kushner’s fourteen-year-old son died of an incurable genetic disease. Kushner wrestled to understand how a loving God could allow such evil. He concluded that there could only be two possibilities: Either God was genuinely good but incapable of stopping evil, or he was all-powerful but indifferent to evil. He concluded that the truth must lie in the former proposal: that God is truly good but cannot stop evil in the world. Christopher Reeve found this to be a plausible conclusion, and one with which he could live.
The Bible does not shy away from the reality of evil in a world governed by a good God. Nahum 3 draws attention to this. The prophet writes of the incredible death toll and spectacular mess that would accompany Nineveh’s destruction. As Nineveh had slaughtered the children of the enemies that they had defeated, so Babylon would slaughter Nineveh’s children (v. 10). Significantly, God claimed responsibility for this violence (vv. 5–7). But how do we reconcile this with the revelation of God as a perfectly loving Creator?
Solutions have been offered. On the one hand, some will remind us that the Bible uses the language of accommodation. In other words, God allows evil but is not responsible for it. Others argue that suffering is simply a part of life in a fallen world, which will be corrected in the world to come. Neither of these solutions seems entirely satisfactory when we consider that God could stop evil if he wanted to. In the blink of an eye, he could put an end to every instance of child abuse, sexual assault, and violent crime in the world. Indeed, he will one day do that very thing. Our struggle is to understand why he delays.
I suppose we could supply several rationales for reconciling this dilemma in our minds. I suspect none of them will answer all our questions. And perhaps that is by design. Perhaps God wants us to trust his character more than understand his ways. Even so, there is one astonishing truth that may help us to think about the aforementioned dilemma. That truth is simply this: God is not an impassionate observer of a messy world but one who entered into it and experienced the pain that it invites.
Though he lived centuries after the fall of Nineveh, Jesus was a child who was threatened by Herod with a violent end. He experienced the lies and plunder (v. 1) of a godless world and felt the crack of the whip on his back (v. 2). He became a corpse (v. 3) after feeling the sting of betrayal (v. 4). As he took upon himself the penalty for our sins, his Father was against him (v. 5). People saw his nakedness (v. 5) as they treated him with contempt and made him a spectacle (v. 6). He lived in the mess that characterises a fallen and sinful world. He experienced it as the Master of it. Bruckner states it poignantly: “God’s ownership of the responsibility for the human problem did not remain philosophical but took on flesh. He became vulnerable to the violence, running (with Mary and Joseph) for his life to Egypt. He entered the ‘mess’ and the violence, even to a torturous death as an abandoned criminal.”
As you reflect on Nahum 3 this morning, recognise that you live in a messy world in which answers are not always quickly forthcoming. Ask God to help you remember that Christ entered the same mess and find hope in the glorious truth that he took the mess of a sinful world on himself so that he could ultimately give us life everlasting in a perfectly ordered world to come.