Whenever I think of crime, pain and suffering, one particular event of the year 2009 comes fresh to my mind. I was travelling in a matatu (van) to Nairobi’s Industrial Area. I had been instructed by my mentor to go carry out an Occupational Safety and Health Audit in a certain factory. I teamed up with a fire safety consultant and we set off from Nairobi’s Central Business District. Out of the blue, the traffic jam started to get nasty. It became clear that we may not be able to beat our deadline if we chose to stick with the jam. Thus we decided to alight and take a walk. As we paced along we suddenly observed the heavy presence of the police along the road. It immediately dawned on me that something was awry. This development made us more watchful. Our fears were confirmed few metres ahead with bodies strewn across the road. I counted nine of them and it appeared that there were more bodies along the pavement. All the bodies had bullet wounds and the scene was ghastly. It was the first time in my life to witness such a horror.
We learned from onlookers that there had been attempted robbery and the fallen men were suspected, armed robbers. They tried to rob a businessman by kidnapping him when police got wind of it and instantly nailed them. It also came to our knowledge that one of the fallen men was innocent. Eyewitnesses said that the man was a passenger in one of the matatus passing by and was cut down by a stray bullet. The poor soul lay among the robbers. I guess he didn’t know what was awaiting him that fateful day. It just happened that things went that way. As I pondered over these happenings, I remembered some months earlier I had met a certain old mzee who kept telling me about the Murphy’s Law – Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
We proceeded with the day’s activities albeit the gruesome events. I always ruminate over matters, and I can confess that it took long before I buried them.
In 1998 the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by al Qaeda terrorists. In Kenya, 224 souls lost their lives. The mayhem that followed is unimaginable. It was a sad day not just for the East Africans but all peace-loving people across the world. There are some who lived to tell the tale. Scabs turned into scars. And scars did not fade. Healing came in installment but finally, we moved on.
One important thing is that the fateful day was like any other day, and people went around with their businesses as usual. Swiftly hell broke loose and clean, tiled floor surfaces turned into streams of blood.
Three years after the Nairobi Bombing, the world woke up to another nightmare – The World Trade Centre in New York, Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania had been struck by terrorists. Nearly three thousand people lost their lives. It was another painful moment in modern human history. This is what came to be known as the September 11.
Three years after the September 11, again, the world was treated to a catastrophic Indian Ocean Tsunami. The natural disaster left a trail of untold destruction and loss of human life. It shook the world to its core. It wreaked havoc across the Indian Ocean and the countries of Asia.
As human beings, we seldom predict man-made or natural disasters. Most of the time we are caught unaware. None of us knows what will happen the following day. Disasters catch both man and woman, adult and child, rich and poor, learned and unlearned unaware. The mesh is so wide that it nets in a variety. Hell and high waters, mistakes and regrets, pain and anguish come to all and sundry.
There are other events that cause untold physical and emotional suffering to mankind. Diseases such as cancers, heart diseases, diabetes and hemorrhagic fever still ravage humanity.
Pain and suffering are all over. It litters human life. You cannot move from one village to another, town to town, city to city and country to country without bumping into some kind of evil.
In most of the time, when such tragedies occur we tend to ask such questions, ‘why us God?’, ‘why me God?’, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’
No one has fitting answers to these problems. No one can give you a response that will gratify the deep-seated soul vexations. No amount of explanations can eradicate or slacken emotional agony that tags along pain and suffering. We struggle to address these questions theologically. We strive to answer these questions philosophically. But most of the time we fall short of providing a healing answer.
One day a rich young ruler came to Jesus asking Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good–except God alone”. Mark 10:18.
This part of Scripture slices through my heart and reminds me that I live by grace and not by my goodness. No amount of good deeds can make me good enough. This scripture destroys the question we often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” This does not mean that we necessarily suffer because we are evil. The Bible has much to say about pain and suffering. Many reasons – drawn from the Bible – for our pain and suffering have been advanced.
The question we should be asking is this, ‘Why do good things happen to evil people like myself?’
Despite the agony around us, there are many other good things happening. We can always have one reason to thank God for being good to us in spite of our wickedness. Our lives should offer comfort to those around us. We can offer a shoulder to someone who is trying to come to terms with evil in this world.
Being a Christian is knowing how to deal with curveballs in life. Should we give up on God or do we allow setbacks to draw us closer to Him? Pain and suffering can either drive you far away from God – like Bart Ehrman – or closer to Him.
“This God – His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). If God’s ways are ‘perfect’, then we can throw ourselves before Him and believe that whatever He allows is perfect too.
God is still in charge.