Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Often we attempt to rationalize why bad things happen to good people. We perceive it to be unjust when those who have wronged us appear to float onward with no apparent consequences. We are enraged when we witness a tragedy befall the upstanding pillars of our communities. At such a time, it appears inevitable that someone will ask, “How can you reconcile that with a good and loving God?”
In my brief 24 years of life, I have experienced privileges and pains that most people twice my age have not encountered. Often the two go hand-in-hand. To be in a position of unique privilege, whether this is an incredible friendship, a challenging career, or a breath-taking adventure, often involves a great amount of vulnerability. It is this vulnerability that allows us the pain. I’ve worked with many families through the years, and have become convinced that being a parent is one of the greatest privileges that we can be afforded. This is likely why there is little that can compare to the pain of losing a child or the dissolution of a family.
To be free of pain and suffering in this life is to be removed from society. Save removing yourself from anything dangerous and every person that has the power to hurt you, it would be impossible to feel no pain. This often makes me think of the film Finding Nemo. In the film, Marlin, Nemo’s overbearing father, frantically searches the ocean for his wayward son who has been fishnapped by a scuba diving dentist. He teams up with a forgetful fish, Dory, to bring Nemo home to the Great Barrier Reef. As the two traverse the seas, the following conversation unfolds:
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
In order for good things to happen to us, we must also be vulnerable enough to allow the bad.
Still, bad things do happen, and it seems impossible to rationalize a world of human suffering with a good and loving God.
Ultimately, God has given us the power of free will. And, as Uncle Ben reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility:
The same incredible free will that empowers us to do good in the world also allows others to do evil. The free will that allows someone to dedicate his life to saving lives allows another to take life. It’s two sides of a volatile coin. The responsibility rests with us. Today, our generation has the power to end world hunger, take vital immunizations to the developing world, and close the gap between the richest people in the world and the destitute. We have the power, but we’re not taking the responsibility.
I suppose taken to an extreme, it could seem that I’m describing God as a distant entity with little real power. I have seen God’s miraculous intervention a number of times, but more often than not, he allows us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn’t promise that we wont see the shadow or linger in the shadow, but he promises that we can trust in him as a guide. The Psalmist reminds us that we must make it through the shadow guided by His rod and staff to prosper in spite of our enemies.
Recently, I feel like I’ve been walking through the shadow of the valley of death. I’ve suffered at unjust hands and I’ve wept as I’ve questioned how bad things can happen to someone who strives to do the right thing. However, I’ve come to see the miraculous providence before me. I’ve seen that walking through the shadow of the valley of death, directed by the rod and staff, perhaps took me from the clutches of something more dark than I could have imagined. And I praise God.
Ultimately, dwelling upon the wrongs of others never leads to health or prosperity. As long as we compare ourselves to others – especially our enemies – we will never be satisfied. Even vindication loses its justice and we are poisoned by lust for the other’s demise. Instead, I advocate responsibility.
Be the best person that you can be. Take the power you have over your sphere of influence and execute it with moral integrity. You have the power to treat others the way you wish to be treated. You have the power to protect others from the pain you might inflict when you abuse your power. You have the power to humble yourself and make amends when you have done wrong. You have the power to speak out when you see injustice, rather than becoming complicit in your silence.
What will you do with your freedom?