WHY GOD WHY? Sermons on the Problem of Pain by Justin Tull *


One of the most important roles of preaching is to be a catalyst for theologizing. The preacher is to assist the individual church member in formulating a theology that is consistent with the gospel while being able to withstand the tough tests of life. It is not acceptable to preach positive platitudes or offer trite answers to life's profound tragedies. It is not acceptable to escape existential questions with a simple pastoral instruction to embrace everything on faith or to promote the false notion that somehow every tragedy is God's will.

Throughout my ministry, I have endeavored to deal honestly with questions of human suffering and pain. I have sought the biblical witness as it has addressed such human dilemmas. This series of sermons evolved primarily out of the crucible of life experiences. They all have in common the human cry of "why?" "Why all this suffering? Why the injustice? Why does God allow evil to exist? Why did this tragedy occur?"

Sermons that focus on these questions may be spawned national tragedies like the burning of the Davidic compound near Waco, Texas or the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Events such as these cry out for a word from our pulpits. At these times of human tragedy people everywhere ask, "Why, God, why?"

But sermons that ask, "Why, God, why?" may also come out of pastoral care. A parishioner who is critically ill may raise a theological question to her pastor: "What did I do to deserve this?" A congregation deserves to know how its minister will answer such a question - not from a bedside, but from the pulpit, drawing upon the biblical witness.

One of the sermons of this book came after a series of deaths within the congregation just prior to Christmas. It did not seem appropriate that I preach simply a positive word of "joy to the world" without acknowledging in some way that there was also sadness within our own congregation. I decided to preach using the text from Matt. 2:16-18 that introduces the tragic deaths of innocent children at the hand of King Herod at the very time of the coming of the Christ Child. By drawing from the text and the Christmas story, I sought to find a word of hope and joy even for those overcome with sorrow.

At other times these existential sermons have evolved not from the human condition but from the text itself. There are texts that raise their own theological issues as in the case ofjohn 9:1-2: Is blindness caused by sin?

In preaching, one can search for the biblical witness that addresses a prevalent theological issue raised within the congregation. One may also share the theological insight of a biblical text that indeed intersects with the theological wrestling of the present day. Either way, it is the responsibility of the preacher to address the tough theological questions of the person in the pew. One of the most prevalent questions throughout human history is the question "Why, God, why?" These sermons attempt to address this most basic of all human questions.

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