Why do you go to church? That’s a tough one. After all, there probably isn’t one single reason.
My mother, in her earlier years, used to say that she went primarily for the music (until, that is, her faith became far more critical to her in her final years).
My paternal grandfather, a pastor, once told my father the main reason people go to church is to be reassured.
I think there’s something to this. But what? To be reassured about what? Moreover, why do we need to be reassured?
Someone recently asked me why God allows innocent suffering, of, say, a child. This is one of the more difficult questions Christianity faces. Why does an all-knowing, all-loving God allow such a thing? Why indeed do “bad things happen to good people”?
As a pastor who’s considered this question over the years and heard it posed by any number of people, I still can’t offer an adequate answer – or at least one that truly satisfies.
The traditional answer, of course, is that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen, things God does not intend.
While getting a haircut the other day, my barber suggested that “everything happens for a reason,” including illness and other maladies. Though I didn’t argue with her, I’ve always believed this sentiment to be contrary to the biblical witness.
I don’t believe, in other words, that God purposely inflicts suffering in order to help us grow spiritually (or for any other reason for that matter). Rather, God enters into life’s inevitable pain seeking to bring healing and spiritual growth.
The reason we come to church, therefore, is precisely because we live in a fallen world where suffering and pain affects the just and the unjust alike. It’s a part of life. We can’t ever fully know why. Suffering just is.
And because suffering is both real and a part of everyday life, we are drawn to that place which not only provides us with meaning in the midst of our pain, but promises us relief, not just in this life but the next.
The life, passion, and death of Jesus Christ teaches us that even God is not spared innocent suffering. (We’re even assured that God suffers with us.) Yet in and through our suffering there is meaning and purpose; we can draw closer to God.
Along these lines, Paul tells us that suffering can have one of two effects – it can lead to death, he says, or life. Suffering can cause us to become embittered and lose hope. Or it can open us up to the awareness of God’s life-giving presence.
In the final analysis, if there was no suffering or pain (not that God causes it), we wouldn’t need to go to church. And we wouldn’t need a Messiah.
The reason we go to church, then, despite all others ancillary reasons to do so, is the enduring assurance that in the midst of a broken and fallen world, God is with us, redeeming us, and saving us, with the ironclad promise of eternal life.
Peace and grace,
Thomas C. Leinbach, Pastor