Dr Pamela Prince Pyle

Why We Can’t Afford to Look Away

TW: This post contains graphic images of war and violence against children that may not be suitable for all viewers.

The most difficult issue we face as Christians is the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” This is amplified when one’s horror is another’s hurrah. As a physician I’ve seen decades of suffering, but mainly relegated to our finiteness not our fallenness.

World headlines, and images from some university quads, remind us that sin unfettered is capable of inexplicable evil.

As Christians we believe the Holy Spirit in us will prohibit the depth of human depravity which exists in the world. Yet, in a quote attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer our role is unique in the milieu of evil that exists:

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless.

Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

When we understand that to say nothing, to do nothing, grieves the Spirit within us, we are often forced to examine our comprehension of God’s character. When we raise our voice against evil, we also invite the question, “How can God allow such suffering and pain to affect children?”

We desire to understand this juxtaposition between our gracious Father and incomprehensible tragedy. We need to feel secure in our faith, our theology, and our God. We may fear our inability to understand the answer to this pivotal question.

We struggle with precise theological arguments and do not want to offer platitudes. My silence, our silence can be purchased by one of the devil’s schemes, our propensity for pride. We don’t want to poorly represent our God and we don’t want to look ignorant.

We believe our God to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Suffering is filtered through His hand. I have personally suffered mentally and physically. Practicing medicine over three decades has drenched my heart with suffering people and I now write about suffering. My theology is simple: God is good, and I trust Him.

This doesn’t mean God is a good giver. It means His character is good but sometimes His deeds seem bad on the surface, mysterious in their depth. We can understand God’s hand in our suffering when we have the perspective of His precious presence amidst struggles. This is especially true with reflection of the past. It can be seen in the lives of others with the vantage point of proximity but not too close.

The answer to why does God allow suffering of the kind written below escapes our human reasoning. Some photos are meant to shock and invoke…outrage, nationalism, anger, fear, and perhaps faith-filled action.

My only spiritual answer for this unwarranted suffering affecting the most innocent is this: Children are not immune to a world immersed in sin and human nefariousness. Their pain seen through images stir our thoughts, kindle our sensibilities, and ignite our hearts on fire. We yearn to do something. It may be God’s perfect plan to see who is truly compelled to rise up for the least of these.

Our Father God reveals His answers to those who seeks Him.  Those who witness atrocities and do nothing are not seeking Him. Our Creator God wants a relationship with each of us and the more authentic we are, the closer we will be to His mysterious ways. Even if the discussion begins with:

“Are you real God? If you are real, why, oh why, do we witness suffering of the little ones? In fact, why do you allow us to suffer?”

He has an answer, “Are you listening?”

I am listening Lord. I couldn’t stop writing. I hope you can’t stop reading:

Let me Show you Mine

The attack on Israel on October 7th by Hamas shocked much of the world by its brutality, though curiously some cheered. Our hearts were broken to see infants and children viciously murdered in their beds, though startling news was accompanied by terrorist’s bravado. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyu chose to release horrific images, including burned infants, to prepare the world for what would come next.  

An adumbration of burned infants pierces our hearts and the image below evokes emotions for the tragedies that unfolded that day.

PHOTO BY ISRAEL / X

It has been over a month since that fateful day.  We are now bombarded with images of children massacred in Gaza, though some still say “allegedly.” Many images have been doctored with AI and others are from other wars, like the photo widely recirculated from Syria in 2013 (below). Such faux fatalities at Hamas’s hands make the damnable acts of October 7th opaque—not nullified but extending some hope of exaggerated claims. [i] Nonetheless, any reasoned assessment numbers thousands of civilian fatalities, Israeli and Palestinian, including hundreds of children.

My Soul Seeks Safety

Sharing images of children from another war are not necessary. There are many images of children caught in the crosshairs of the Israel and Hamas War.

Poland just past the Ukrainian border – 2022
Unknown Photographer – Screen Shot CNN News

Meanwhile, we also see tragedies unfolding before our eyes in Ukraine. The plight of one young boy captured the heart of the world as videos captured his emotion in walking from Ukraine to Poland. His staggered walk and plaintive cry reflect a soul needing to feel safe.

Nothing was safe for this young boy. He walked from a place where death was knocking and yet, as a child, he remains unsure if death will greet him at this unknown future location.  He wails for he seeks that which is normal. It is nowhere to be found.

His worn frame is reminiscent of the elderly or perhaps one prematurely aged by life. No matter his future, he will always be affected by the trauma he has endured. One day, he may use his life to effect change. Or perhaps, he will take his life as the pain seems becomes unbearable.

This boy represents all that is terrible about war. Parents die, children die, lone children walk with trepidation crying as they stumble forward.

We have seen these walks, these moments of tragedy, these out of order deaths and circumstances and we are moved`. A child should be playing, and laughter should touch his lips.

The plight of a child suffering rips our hearts more than any other image. We hold our children tight and kiss them in the night and are grateful. The rips begin to heal, but will the scars remain?

“Napalm Girl” – Vietnam 1972
Nick Ut/Associated Press

The images of the children of war from the last century are an exclamation point on the atrocities against the innocent. As war correspondents risk their lives for these images to change us, I ask the question, “Are we truly changed?”

If we are truly changed, we will care beyond the moment. The images of suffering will not only move us but move us. Our emotional angst will result in practical action.

To war…is human. To die…is human. To suffer…is human. To forget…is human. To remain on our couches…is human. Human history reveals that war, suffering, and death are inevitable. It is the fall of man lived out repeatedly. Yet, our response to this curse can change.

We can choose to remember. We can choose to care for broken children, and grieving parents long after death’s stench has drifted from these temporary cemeteries. We can choose to recognize that the human toll is degrading humanities’ soul.

What we forget is embedded in the life of a child forever. To rise above our human condition, we must walk with such children.  We must allow our hearts to remain ripped, and we cannot heal till that child is healed.

We may not know how our life can make a difference for another. This shouldn’t prevent action. We tell ourselves, “There is nothing we can do.” Yet, this is a lie. Our life matters and for the children of war, our life could matter tremendously.  

The Bible states: “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9a (New Living Translation). We commit our heart to Him when we care for what matters to Him…His Son and each other.

Perhaps one day, peace will reign throughout the world and children can be children once again. We can always dream. Until then, we remain…human.

[1] Hsu, Tiffany, and Stuart A. Thompson. “A.I. Muddies Israel-Hamas War in Unexpected Way.” The New York Times, October 28, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/28/business/media/ai-muddies-israel-hamas-war-in-unexpected-way.html. 

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