Whenever I think of crime, pain and suffering, one specific event of the year 2009 comes fresh to my mind. I was travelling in a matatu (van) to Nairobi’s Industrial Area. Out of the blue, the traffic jam built up so fast that we could tell something was unusual. It was now apparent that I may not be able to beat the deadline. So I decided to alight and take a walk. There was a heavy presence of the police along the road; a tell-tale sign that something could be awry.
This development made me more vigilant, and true to my intuitions, bodies of young men were strewn over the road. I counted nine of them and it appeared that there were more bodies along the pavement. They all had bullet wounds and the scene was ghastly. It was the first time in my life to witness such a horror.
I learned from onlookers that there had been attempted robbery and the fallen men were suspected, armed robbers. They had tried to kidnap and rob a businessman. Unluckily for them, the police got wind of it and instantly nailed them. It also came to my knowledge that one of the fallen men was innocent. Eyewitnesses said that the man was a passerby 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 an old man I had met in Thika some months prior. He was a management guru from India, a sanguine, and full of wisdom. He could handle any topic under the sun. And he was the first person to introduce me to Murphy’s Law – Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
We proceeded with the day’s activities albeit shaken by the gruesome events. I always ruminate over matters, and I can confess that it took long before I buried them.
Pain and suffering
Recently we lost our second President – Daniel Moi. One of the darkest times of his rulership was 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. Some lived to tell the tale. Scabs turned into scars. And scars did not fade. Healing came in instalment 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. I know this event has given conspirational theorists luscious fodder for quite some time.
Three years after 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.
It just happens in the twinkle of an eye
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.
Other phenomena and events cause unimaginable physical and emotional suffering to humanity. Diseases such as cancers, heart diseases, diabetes and haemorrhagic fevers still ravage humanity.
Pain and suffering are all over the globe. It litters human life with tears and blood. You cannot move from one village to another, town to town, city to city and country to country without bumping into some kind of suffering.
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 puzzles. No one can give you a response that will satisfy the deep-seated soul vexations. No amount of explanations can eradicate or slacken emotional agony that tags along with pain and suffering. We struggle to address these questions theologically. We strive to answer these questions philosophically. But most of the time we fail short of providing a healing answer.
By His grace and not by my goodness
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.
The scripture ends the question we often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It does not mean that we necessarily suffer because we are evil. The Bible has much to say about pain and suffering. Various 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, many other good things are happening. We can always have one reason to thank God for being good to us despite 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 and this the reason to have hope in pain.