I have the very high honor of serving as chaplain for a local fire department as well as for the military, and it is one of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry. Serving those who serve carries a huge weight of responsibility because these folks do not let people into their lives easily. For many the belief is that no one will understand what they are going through or have gone through in their lives. It is hard to explain, but the chaplain is that person that wears the same uniform but is not part of service.
Mostly the job consists of talking to people when the opportunity arises, this is called the ministry of presence. Whether it is on the scene of a fire, the rifle range or out in the woods the chaplain circulates and just talks to people. The chaplain is also called in after traumatic incidents like the death of a fellow soldier or firefighter or even a traumatic rescue. The resulting stress from these incidents builds up over time and can manifest itself is bad ways if not dealt with immediate.
By and large both groups that I work with are very spiritual in some rather nontraditional ways. This was a steep learning curve for me coming from the traditional go to church model of spirituality, but I have come to learn that, although I still believe in the need for the communal aspect of church, sometimes it is not necessary. Many times after a traumatic incident, I will get the inevitable question, “why would God let this happen?”
Usually in situations where I am going to face “the question” as I like to call it, I am praying that they will not ask it because I really don’t have an answer or one that I feel comfortable with. Usually, these are battle hardened guys, and gals, who have taken the risk of opening up to me to share what is inside of them. For the most part, they are very private and don’t like to share their intimate thoughts and feelings with anyone but sometimes a crack emerges and slowly move in.
So you might be asking yourself, what is the answer? Well, you will have to read on.
I will be honest and say that I too struggle with the answer to this question. In my short years of ministry, I have been witness to some pretty horrific incidents that stay with me and sometimes haunt my dreams, and I have often asked this question myself.
This past weekend the country of Nepal was rocked by the worst earthquake in that small nation’s history. I am sure there will be more deaths but as of this writing, the death toll stands at 2,500 people. It is not uncommon for even the most spiritual among us to look at an event such as this and ask, “why would God allow this to happen?” My usual response is God does not let it nor does he prevent it from happening it just happens. Sure I like to think that God is in control but is God truly in control and control of all aspects of life? If God allowed this to happen wouldn’t God then be some crazed tyrant bent on destruction? How does this jive with the God who gave His only Son for us? Well, it doesn’t.
All of my theological education has not prepared me to answer this question. I have searched the books and have not been able to find anyone who can simply answer the question. Then the answer came to me from a police officer teaching the classes I was in, and it is by far the best answer I can come up with. “God never said you would not suffer, He did say you would not suffer alone.” I am not sure about you, but I find great comfort in those words.
The other night I was clicking around the internet, and I came across the old Gospel song, It Is Well with My Soul. This is a great song of comfort and peace reminds me that peace of soul, not the peace of mind is the goal. If my soul is at peace the rest will follow: When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. God never promised that we would not suffer what He did promise what that we would not suffer alone!