Jesus doesn’t give an explanation for the pain and sorrow of the world. He comes where the pain is most acute and takes it upon himself. Jesus doesn’t explain why there is suffering, illness, and death in the world. He brings healing and hope. He doesn’t allow the problem of evil to be the subject of a seminar. He allows evil to do its worst to him. He exhausts it, drains its power, and emerges with new life. — N.T. Wright
I’ll never forget the experiences I had in 1991-92 working at Gift of Peace, a Missionaries of Charity home in Washington, D.C. for homeless men and women in the latter stages of HIV/AIDS. Having up to that point in my life only known of the world of small town New England, college life in Tallahassee and graduate school in Maryland, being thrust into the lives of people who had lived lives of unimaginable tragedy was for me a terribly strong dose of jarring reality therapy. I could write a book of memories from those days, but today I want to focus on one particular story.
There was a young woman who had lived on the streets for many years as a prostitute, who had HIV/AIDS. I can’t remember her name. I learned her story in bits and pieces while I was there, and especially after she died when another volunteer shared more details with me. When this woman came to Gift of Peace she was bitter and angry, cursing and even spitting on the sisters and volunteers. Eventually, though, she softened under the influence of patient love, and in time expressed interest in being baptized. After she had received instruction in the faith for a few weeks, she indicated she felt ready. One day, when the woman was still preparing for baptism, she asked one of the Sisters why God had looked on all those years and done nothing to intervene while she, as a child and young woman, suffered terrible injustices at the hands of others. The Sister to whom she posed this shattering question gave what I believe to be a brilliant and inspired response, one I would never have thought to give. Sister said to this woman: “Why don’t you ask Him yourself?” and then walked the woman over to the Chapel. Sister offered her a brief catechesis on the significance of the Blessed Sacrament and explained the meaning of the words found next to the Crucifix: “I thirst.” Then she left her there alone. The woman remained in the Chapel for at least two hours, crying loudly for stretches of time. Afterward, she went to the Sister and very simply indicated she was ready for baptism. No more questions.
I wrote later in my journal:
How humbling. If she had asked me where God was, I would’ve tried to give her an answer, a justification, a defense. Sister is a genius. I imagine the only answer this woman received from God was the ‘Why?’ of Jesus. Her objection became His. She was answered by the sight of a Victim not of a victimizer, by the sight of unrequited love, by the sight of a Lover athirst with love for the loveless and unloved … She was not persuaded by rational arguments, but gazed on the compassionate Solution who had endured the same evils — a God with us who was, as Kreeft says, off the hook because He was on the hook. For Christians, theodicy [the problem of evil] is Christology. Theodicy is resolved only in an encounter with a God who suffers and dies and rises with us and for us. Christ is God’s response to our protest against evil. But I now think, even more profound: Christ reveals that our most strident protests against evil are only but a faint echo of God’s own (Gen.3:13; 4:10; 6:6). Jesus’ “My God, my God, why?” (Mark 15:34) we thought was ours alone, raised against a silent, distant God…but we discover in Christ it was first His; and in Christ His and ours join in a blend more intimate than language itself can bear…and as they join on the cross, the Father to whom they are addressed erupts, explodes (Hosea 11:8-9) in an all-consuming response on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4) … “For in [Jesus] every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 1:20)
All I can think is that, had she known it, she would have sung this: