Audio version read by author
Where is God? This is a question we ask as we see the avalanche of pain and suffering in the world around us but not as often when we behold the beauty, the magnitude, the breathtaking intricacy of the cosmos. It’s as though we expect the universe to naturally deliver a pleasant unhindered life of joy and delight.
But tragedy is the reality. And it seems as if He doesn’t care. Or that He approves. Or maybe He authors it. Very few, even in the realm of believers, would line up with Job, who after losing his children, wealth, and health announced “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him.” Most would be like his wife who advised him to curse God and die. Our idea of goodness is bounded by the material reality that we can see and feel. Freedom from pain, struggle, sorrow, deprivation, and loss is the ultimate goal. This would be unquestionably valid if our lives were bounded merely by time like the animals, if our existence were solely the body life.
There is a part of us, the more fundamental part in fact, that gasps with wonder at the vastness of the starry sky, the beauty of a sunset, the marvel of seeing a child brought into the world, the delight of relationship, the satisfaction of accomplishment. Something that reverberates to the core of our being as we hear the consummation of a symphony, are drawn into the imaginations of an artist, applaud the genius of architecture. This suggests an essence beyond the body, a destiny defying dust, the call of connection to our animating spirit.
But our flesh-life magnetically attaches us to the present material world that we can see and feel. It is a struggle to rise above our animal appetites and inclinations. Without some kind of eternal perspective we can only evaluate this life as Shakespeare’s Macbeth so eloquently put it: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Paul Tripp captures the despair of this philosophy by noting that “when we ask the present to give us what only eternity can give, we end up driven, frustrated, discouraged, and ultimately hopeless.”
Logically speaking, it seems like the One Who created and sustains such a vast intricate universe with unimaginable diversity, facilitating such intense pinnacles of ecstasy throughout our lifetime, may also be able to ultimately reconcile suffering with our immortality. When we drop our earth-time through the sieve of eternality our viewpoints of good and evil may shift. And perhaps our resentment towards God may seem like the tantrums of a two year old – indeed full of sound and fury!
In addition to that, perhaps it is true that mankind itself opened Pandora’s box – as the story goes. Maybe sin, though common by virtue of its pervasiveness, is uncommon in its power to destroy and distort. It seems outrageous to blame Someone else for something we did, demanding that He intervene to fix it. (Which He did by the way.) Sin had the power to distort even the material world that we see, to alter natural law – a subject for another time. But let us just say that in our fervor to justify ourselves, we minimize the very thing that is taking us out. We add that to our blame shifting and rage at the consequences.
Being persuaded of God’s innocence, however, does not ease the hurt of watching people we love suffer. Death may have been conquered at Calvary, but it is still agonizing in our present time zone. Seeing innocent people, especially children, brutalized, diseased, oppressed – it tortures our hearts. The empty places at our tables (courtesy of the Prince of Darkness) remind us that we currently inhabit a bent world. I am surrounded by so many hurting people right now that it is overwhelming. The burden is heavy as the desire to help and ease the pain cannot always be turned into reality. The temptation is to be so confused by the lack of healings, the overflow of sorrows, the preponderance of problems that I take Job’s wife’s advice. If all we see is this world, that makes sense.
It is my choice to resist, even at the risk of appearing foolish. That decision doesn’t lessen the pain of watching others suffer, but it allows for hope that it does not have to be pointless suffering. It seems to me that the story of the Bible can be summed up that things are not what they seem, there is an invisible but enduring world that is worth preparing for, and that people who believed this enough to act on it were acknowledged by the chroniclers of God’s story as the wise ones. Jesus is proof that there is another world, a better kingdom, and He invites all who will to come. The stories we hear about His brief human-clothed visit here seem to indicate that He has the power to deal with the things that distress us. And the heart!! He has given us every reason to believe that He is not untouched by our suffering, but He entered into it and bore more of it than any other human in any epoch in history. And He is willing to share our anguish even now if we allow it. It still hurts. It devastates. Grief is tortuous. But only for a little while. Anticipating our troubles, Jesus gave us words of hope to cling to. “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous;… I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]”
I think I’ll go with Job. He questioned, he struggled, he complained, but he persevered. Things turned out pretty well for him in the end. A little picture story for us. Where is God? He is right here with us!!