Its the rainy season in southern Africa, which is not, as you might expect the time when it rains, but when the ozone over this part of the world (in total disregard for Al Gore), goes on vacation to Canada.
As a result it becomes so hot that no one stops at traffic signals for fear that their tires will melt to the road (at least, I’m supposing that’s why they don’t stop).
Anyway, the rain is supposed to start any day now and in fact it should have started weeks ago but like most things in Africa its terribly late. The ground should be saturated by now and the dirt roads turned to mud, but instead its mostly just dust and heat and the occasional shower thrown in for good measure.
But the storms are approaching and we hear them every now and then rumbling like a good case of indigestion.
Sometimes though a storm sneaks up on you and before you realize it you’re caught in the middle of it.
When we came out of church on Sunday a strong wind was kicking up, bending tree branches and blowing debris everywhere. The sky was turning black and so we hurried to the car and it started to rain hard just as we climbed in.
We started making our way across town, dodging branches that were being blown into the road and people scampering for shelter, and I wondered, maybe this is the way it is with evil and suffering.
Perhaps sometimes, we just get caught in the storm.
One of the great mysteries of faith in an all powerful God is the honest but potentially toxic question: why? God why didn’t you intervene? God why didn’t you stop this? God why didn’t you answer that prayer? God why did you let this happen to those people?
And the truth is, I really don’t know and I’m not sure anyone does. Why does God intervene on some occasions and not others? Again, clueless. But I know this. I know that in our storms over the last few years (and we’ve had a few), the storms have been distinctly violent and distinctly not God. What I mean by that is that when I stared those storms in the face, when I trembled in the midst of them, I sensed not the wrath of an angry God but rather the fury of a menacing darkness. Each of them bore not the essence of a Savior who died for me, but rather the impending weight of something determined to destroy me.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is a temptation to want to look at the storm as though it emanated from God, as though it somehow flowed from His Being as all things must. But I don’t buy that. I think some things, like evil and suffering flow not from above, but from within, that they flow from the inevitable consequences of billions of people living in rebellion against God and the way He ordered His universe.
Evil and suffering are not the work of God as though He fashioned them out of leftover articles found in His attic; but rather they are more likely the aftereffect of things we have done (or not done). Evil and pain have emerged not from the process of creation, but from the overflow of destruction. Remember, in the Gospels, it wasn’t Jesus that created the storm; rather, He was the one who calmed it, who spoke to it and brought it into submission. And I wonder really if God is not patiently, lovingly, holding back the torrent of affliction that ought to otherwise be surging around us in far greater measure than we know.
And so the real mystery becomes not why we suffer so much, but rather why we suffer so little.
As I write this, a slow steady rain has settled over the part of town we’re in, the kind that you hope for on a Saturday morning, that brings in a cool breeze and the scent of freshly fallen rain.
Not all rain comes in storms. Sometimes it comes softly and lingers a while and then wanders off during the night leaving you to wake to a world rejuvenated. And many times even after a violent storm there comes sort of a resurrection of things as once dry fields become muddy cradles of life both for the seeds buried beneath the surface and for the hope that has lingered just above it.
And Africa has reminded me that all storms eventually pass.
And that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” (John 14:27).