As I write this I am also preparing to travel to Burnley to take part in the funeral of Michael Blakey, who was so tragically killed in India last year. I go with a great sense of the privilege at having shared in Mike’s life but also a continuing anger that he has gone. Over the last few weeks I have heard similar phrases repeated over and over again: “It isn’t fair…” “Why him?” “How could God allow this?”
Some will find comfort in clinging to the belief that this and similarly distressing events are part of the mysterious plan of God, that if we could see the ‘big picture’ we’d know that these things are sent by God to achieve some greater purpose. For myself, I will have none of this. I simply do not believe that God inflicts suffering on people. The brutal murder of a young man, the premature death of a mother, the devastation of flood and earthquake — do not look for the hand of God in these things and ask, Why does God let this happen? He doesn’t. The truth is, though we struggle to accept it, that we live in an ‘open-ended’ world in which chaos, coincidence and accident are part of the very fabric of creation. “Stuff happens”, to paraphrase a once-popular phrase.
But God is not absent from his world. He is ever-present, in our mess and suffering as he is in our joy and creativity. The question we continually face is not “Why?” but “What?” What shall we do in response to the suffering we see around us? We can choose despair and hopelessness, or we can refuse to allow evil to have the final word by facing the world with faith. God’s presence is surely to be found wherever injustice and hate are challenged. Wherever there is a hand of forgiveness and a word of encouragement, he is there. When women and men are lifted from despair to hope, where fresh starts are offered and life is affirmed — God is there.
Where was God when Mike Blakey died? He was in the same place as he had been in Michael’s life: right by his side.
He is there still.