Charles Hewlett is National Leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.

An angel sits on top of our Christmas Tree.

It has a cardboard body, and its face is a photo of our daughter Janelle, taken when she was around 11. She died a year later of brain cancer.

It’s both comforting and sad to have her there, looking down on us each year. Our Christmas angel reminds us of Janelle’s beautiful strawberry-blonde hair, her smooth porcelain skin and her cheeky personality.

For many, Christmas is purely a time of celebration and fun; for some, it’s also a time of intense awareness of loss. It can be a time when we remember sadness and difficulties, not only in our own lives but in the wider world around us – the consequences of wars, climate change, the results of injustice, selfishness, and greed. And just as with personal loss, there often comes the question: “How could a good God allow suffering?” or the assumption: “If there really were a God, there wouldn’t be suffering in the world.”

I guess these are comments I have never really understood. Maybe I am just too naïve, too trusting, but I don’t see why the evil and suffering in our world need to be seen as God’s fault. Isn’t it us humans who have brought these things upon ourselves?

I’ve always believed Janelle’s cancer occurred because she lived in a world that has been damaged by sin – not that she has committed a specific sin in her life, but rather, she is a human being living in a damaged world. The world we live in is quite different from the one God intended; when God created the world, everything was good – no sickness, no suffering, no evil, no death. These things aren’t from God but rather the consequence of humanity’s rejection of him.

Some people assume that because I believe in God, he should take care of me; he should prevent my suffering or take it away. And they wonder why I don’t reject a God who doesn’t act in this way. But my faith in God doesn’t excuse me from difficulty. I never expected it to. Pain and suffering are an intrinsic part of our planet, and no one is exempt. The Bible tells us that the result of human sin is death – so I guess we all have to die from something. For Janelle, it was cancer.

So, if I’m going to cry out about anything or hate anything, it should be sin, not God, because it’s sin that damaged my daughter and caused her so much suffering.

But God is angry about sin, too. And he has done something about our broken world. He hasn’t just turned his back on humanity and said, “Well, they had their chance, and they’ve blown it – they can endure the consequences.” God has a deep concern for our pain and suffering.

Christmas is a time when we can remember and celebrate God’s concern and love for us in action. On the first Christmas, 2000 years ago, he came to our world as a baby called Jesus. When he grew to be a man, he died a painful death on our behalf and, by coming alive again, defeated the power of evil and death. Sure, he hasn’t stopped sickness and death right now, and he hasn’t prevented suffering. But we know in the future when Jesus returns, the fullness of his victory over evil will be seen. The Bible describes this as a time when there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. I have been sustained by faith in this great hope. And when it hurts, I can remind myself that God has intervened and, indeed, endured a substantial amount of suffering himself to put things right.

But how does this help us now? Sure, we can have the future hope of heaven, but that doesn’t help us deal with the practical problem of suffering now. In the now, I believe God’s answer is not to remove the problems but to help us within them. And while my grief doesn’t seem to go away, I can experience God’s help and comfort.

This Christmas, I want you to know that God does exist. I want you to know that he loves you very deeply. I want you to know that he is close to the broken-hearted and can bring comfort and peace. I want you to know that by sending Jesus, he has actively intervened so we can have a certain hope for a future where there is healing and no more pain.

Photo supplied: Charles' Christmas tree

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