A friend asked my what I tell people going through terrible suffering like the Graham family.
I don’t have a lot of wisdom on this. And I wouldn't presume to say any of what follows to Hannah’s parents. What they need to know from me is simply that I am angry and deeply saddened by what has happened to Hannah. I am praying for them and for Hannah.
The pain, anger, injustice and confusion around what has happened to Hannah derives from the real and powerful love and goodness shared with her. The love and goodness are real. The rest is real but only in a derivative sense.
As to how I understand suffering and evil, I believe that most suffering, pain, and death is caused naturally not by God, and is morally neutral not evil. Cancer for example is natural not an act of God, and morally neutral not evil. Likewise the suffering that results from natural disasters, or accidents.
The feeling of being cheated when we are beset by these natural misfortunes is real and normal. But like a lot of things that happen to us in life we shouldn’t take them personally. The conditions of life depend upon a complex physical, chemical, and biological system. We cannot enjoy life without exposure to manifold risks and dangers. AS another beloved friend was won't to say, It is what it is.
On the other hand, evil does exist, not by nature, and not by God, but by human choice. People do evil when we act out of anger, hatred, revenge, envy, lust, greed. And often we act in these ways out of ignorance or want.
When we suffer, whether from natural misfortune or human evil, we still have a choice as to how we respond. And all our nobility as human beings derives from these choices. On 9/11 an ignoble few chose evil either in perpetrating or taking advantage of the disaster. A great many nobly responded with moral courage and goodness.
The abductor of Hannah Graham chose evil. But thousands have responded compassionately and courageously, trying to find her, comforting her family, honoring her goodness, while respecting the rule of law.
One thing we know for sure from Jesus is that God loves us. As Christians we must trust in that love as much as we can at all times. In Jesus, especially through the passion and resurrection, God has given us reason and assurance to hold onto hope, strive to forgive, and do good even in the face of great evil or natural disaster. Our struggle to keep faith during these times is the way of the cross. We often fall short in our efforts. But He did not fail and will never give up on us, but rather help us again and again. And in the end we triumph because he loves us.
William Sloane Coffin spoke powerfully about some these things at the funeral of his son. http://www.pbs.org/now/printable/transcript_eulogy_print.html
"The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is "It is the will of God." Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break."