Where Was God?

A friend of mine wrote me not too long after the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School: “Where was God?!” he cried. 6a00d8341c22ce53ef00e54f67d4918834-800wiI suspect lots of people were asking that hard question during those sad days.

I made a stab at an answer but I don’t think he was satisfied with it. How could he be? I wasn’t satisfied myself.

Another friend and I sat at lunch just after her husband was sent off to jail for 10 years. She asked pretty much the same question. I made a stab once again: “God is with you. God weeps with you. God will never leave you.” It sounds good but it didn’t help much on that afternoon of deep grief and anger. “But why didn’t God DO something!?” she cried.

Ah! There’s the rub!

Anyone who asks that question is in very good company. It’s an age-old struggle, articulated powerfully throughout the Psalms.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

I cry by day, but you do not answer;

I cry by night, but find no rest…

(Psalm 22)

 

Why do you hold back your hand;

why do you keep your hands in your pockets?!?!

(Psalm 74)

We call this theodicy: the problem of evil, the dilemma we experience when we claim that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, but then at the same time we have to acknowledge that evil and suffering are rampant in this world.

Why?

How can this be?

What kind of God will not intervene and rescue from suffering?

Is God really powerful?

Is God really loving?

Is there even any such thing as God?

These unanswerable questions have challenged the faith of cou4986607878_aa21af8fe8_zntless people over the ages and I pray I will never judge their grief and presume to tell them how they should navigate such sorrow and suffering. I pray I will never be guilty of mouthing platitudes and giving easy answers to someone who is in the midst of unspeakable suffering.

Our story of Israel has taken us into Exile, into Babylon. Jerusalem is demolished, the Temple laid waste, the aged and the children slaughtered, the abled bodied men and women marched in chains across the Fertile Crescent.

Where was God? they surely asked.

Yes, maybe we did do this to ourselves on one level. The prophetic words from Isaiah 1 envision the Divine Parent complaining against the rebellious children. Heavenly frustration and anger melds into angst and grief.

Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity,

offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly,

who have forsaken the LORD,

who have despised the Holy One of Israel,

who are utterly estranged!

But even so, even though our rebellion is inexcusable – still what about God’s promises?

What about the covenant?

What about God’s faithfulness?

Where is God?

Psalm 137 is gut wrenching:

By the rivers of Babylon—

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion..

O daughter Babylon, you devastator!

Happy shall they be who pay you back

what you have done to us!

Happy shall they be who take YOUR little ones

and dash THEM against the rocks!

Might this be a Psalm for the Sandy Hook parents?

For the fathers of the Holocaust?

For the mothers of Syria?

Dare I judge the grief of such trauma? Who am I to tell someone they shouldn’t feel anger or rage or revenge? People feel what they feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong; they come from our deep places, our honest places and they must be expressed or else they will turn into poison and eat us alive. Or else they will turn into a lasting woundedness that will unwittingly keep on wounding everyone around us.

Asking hard questions of God, arguing with God, even shaking a fist at God is not an act of faith-LESS-ness; rather this kind of honest struggle is faith-FULL-ness. It is an expression of deep living faith.

The faithfulness of the Psalmists.

The faithfulness of Job.

The faithfulness of Jesus.

Where was God when Jesus was nailed to that cross?

There have been numerous attempts to answer this question throughout Christian history. Please know these are attempts, theories, possibilities for understanding, efforts to make sense. There is no one way to think about the meaning of the cross. No one explanation that is the right, only answer. None of us knows; we all do the best we can to answer the unanswerable question.

Where was God? Why didn’t God do something?

Here is part of my feeble effort to make meaning:

Jesus the Christ IS God doing something.

It was in the Christ that God entered into human suffering.

It was in the Christ that God experienced our pain and our confusion and the dilemmas of our faith.

It was in the Christ that the Eternal God tasted forsakenness and death.

Why doesn’t God do something? crucifixion

Christ is what God has done.

“It was God in Christ – reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

 

I’m thinking the question “where is God” is not the right question anyway. I’m thinking the better question is: “where are we?”

Isaiah calls God’s people to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow: so – where are we? Are we there?

When God’s children are used and abused: where are we?

When God’s beloved are sick or lonely or afraid: where are we?

When God’s lost ones are angry and hurting and confused: where are we?

When injustice, evil and suffering are rampant in this world: where are we?

As people of the Christ, are we willing to enter into the suffering of others, to hear their cries and kiss their tears?

As the community of Christ, as the hands and feet of Christ, are we willing to touch the untouchables and bless the children and walk right into the messy middle of the pain of the world?

It’s hard. Oh so hard. It will break your heart.

But it will answer the question:

Where is God?

Here we are.

I watched an interview with a woman named Jean Estes. Five years ago her infant grandson, Thomas, died and she has been struggling with the dilemma ever since. Jean is wise, gentle; she wept through much of the conversation but she was determined to share some of the lessons she has learned with the rest of us.

She tells the story of how the two grandmothers were given the job of shopping for funeral clothes for Thomas. As they stood in the children’s shop crying, the shopkeeper realized what was happening. She went to the back, brought out the perfect outfit for little Thomas and said: “May I just give this to you? May I give you a hug? May I say I’m sorry?”

“I saw God in that,” The grieving grandmother said.

“God showed up in lots of ways,” Jean says. “But it was our job – if our suffering was going to be productive – we had to be willing to look for it. God was everywhere.

“Some very good people wanted to reach down and help me out of my hole. But what I wanted – what I needed – was for someone to climb down into my hole with me. And that’s what I found in my faith community…Our community of faith held our hope for us. We weren’t required to be hopeful in the midst of great suffering. Our community said to us: May we hold your hope for you? That’s a huge opportunity for people: for us to hold hope for someone else.

Where is God?

Here we are. Right here – if we are willing.

Willing to hold hope for the hopeless.

Willing to move out of our comfort zones.

Willing to get our hands dirty and our hearts broken.

Willing to touch the untouchables and welcome the despised.

Willing to enter into pain and suffering.

Willing to love.

What do you think?

Where is God?

 

“Why do you keep your hands in your pockets” is my paraphrase for bosom in Psalm 74.

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Published by

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth.

One thought on “Where Was God?”

  1. I haven’t asked myself that a lot, because I’ve never thought of God as our Mr. Fixit, here to give us what we want when we want it. But in the midst of seeing intolerable suffering, I do think WHY? I know that God could have made us robots, and we would be perfect. But robots can’t love or be loved. I understand that. When I see people persecuted, I understand that that’s ours to fix. We usually had a part in causing it, so we should fix it. “We come to this Earth to learn the lessons of love.” When I see people die of natural causes, especially the young, I understand that to God, our time here is the blink of an eye, and that what comes after will be the freest and happiest we have ever been. That’s very hard for those who loved a dead child, or anyone else, but I can see the truth in that. As long as it isn’t MINE. As long as it isn’t my heart that is shattered into a million pieces. My WHY? is usually Why are we so Bad? Well. I don’t expect anyone to believe as I believe, or even wish they would. But I’ve come to feel that some of that is in the roots of Christianity itself. I love the Biblical stories of the life and teachings of Jesus. Much of the Old Testament, though, is so contradictory, and hugely judgmental. God tells a faithful man to further prove his faith by taking his son up on a mountain and killing him with a knife? No. God would never do that. And then there’s all the Hell and damnation. I don’t believe in Hell or Satan. Hate always destroys and love always heals, and God is love. I see people praying and begging God to forgive them. Why would you ask some to forgive you who as never once condemned you? God is love and love does not condemn. I don’t have an Old Testament in my home, and I don’t go where it is preached. Certainly not where it is preached more than the love and trustworthiness of God. It’s my choice to make, and I’ve made it. I don’t think it should be any one elses. But my spiritual life – my love and trust in God – has grown. Your words, Charlotte, are always grounded in love. Although we don’t believe exactly alike, I feel that love, and I am very grateful for it. Thank you –

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