Whenever tragedies occur such as what our country has experienced recently with hurricanes and mass murders, the question “Where Is God?” always arises. I call it the Martha Question. Martha and her family were close friends of Jesus’, and yet, Jesus wasn’t there when their brother Lazarus died even though they had called for Him to come. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her implied question was simply,
Jesus where have You been?
The message behind Martha’s implied question are feelings Martha would have liked to have communicated to Jesus if she was being totally honest. Let’s face it; Martha was basically saying to Jesus in a sarcastic way, “My brother died but obviously you had ‘more important’ things to do than come to him when he was ill, thank you very much.” Or, “If You are such a loving friend why wouldn’t You drop everything and come when we needed You?” Martha was not only sad but angry and perhaps confused that Jesus wasn’t there.
Anger is a normal response to tragedies like we have witnessed in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Las Vegas. Yes, people are angry at Irma, Harvey and the mad man who massacred 59 people and caused over 500 people to be injured. But beneath the seething anger at nature or the evil wrought by one person, many are very angry that a God in Heaven would permit such heartbreak to occur when He has the power to tell the winds to be quiet and a mad man to be still. So, the question, “WHERE IS GOD?” implies that a loving God was either absent, silent, or powerless to intervene and hinder these atrocities from occurring.
People who seek to explain tragedies and defend an Almighty God are well-meaning but are woefully inadequate in providing answers that satisfy the suffering. We just need to be honest and admit there are mysteries about God we cannot explain, this side of Heaven. The best we can do is simply weep with those who weep and be there to provide comfort or meet physical needs when we are able. I get a little annoyed when well-meaning people glibly relate the Las Vegas crisis to God’s judgment on America for its degradation. Or say that hurricanes are signs of the Lord’s soon return. Are these explanations true? I don’t know, but spouting off these one liners only detracts from the deeper issues, in my humble opinion. Placing blame rarely solves any problem, but only increases the divide between those who would disagree. We need less talking about this theory or that theory and more doing, as in doing God’s work to help our neighbors.
So my answer to WHERE IS GOD? when all of these things occurred is simply He is present where loving hands are healing the broken-hearted and helping those whose homes and jobs have been destroyed by the wind and waves. How do I know this? Because Jesus told us in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” In other words where people are hungry, homeless, poor, sick or incarcerated GOD IS THERE! Did you notice Jesus uses the word “I” in that verse about the hungry, thirsty, emprisoned, naked, and homeless? Christ identified with the ones in need, and compassionate touches become the loving hands of God.
Friends I don’t understand why bad things happen to good people or God’s people. But a perspective of seeking to make sense of things that are hard to understand when walking through the valley of the Shadow became real to me on Monday evening. While preparing to write this blog I took the time to listen to Joni Eareckson sharing her story at Times Square Church. The Times Square Church is located in well, Times Square, in the heart of New York City, and Joni was invited to speak to this amazing congregation on September 24th.
Joni Eareckson Tada emerged into the national spotlight when the story of her diving accident as a teenager came to light. Wikipedia shares the following regarding Joni’s story.
“As a teenager, Tada enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. On July 30, 1967, she dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. During her two years of rehabilitation, according to her autobiography, she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. However, Tada learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. She also writes this way. To date, she has written over forty books, recorded several musical albums, starred in an autobiographical movie of her life, and is an advocate for disabled people.
Tada wrote of her experiences in her 1976 international best-selling autobiography, Joni: The Unforgettable Story of a Young Woman’s Struggle Against Quadriplegia & Depression, which has been distributed in many languages. The book was made into a 1979 feature film of the same name, starring herself. Her second book, A Step Further, was released in 1978.”
At the Times Square Church Joni related the lessons she has learned as a result of her accident. Her talk was titled A Deeper Healing. The gist of her message was that although she would not have chosen the path her diving accident took her down, she would also not take it back for anything. At one time she said receiving a miraculous healing would have been her greatest desire, but 40 years later that has changed. She shared that she had more than a broken neck but a broken life that needed mended, and God has used her physical injury to heal her in a deeper way.
Please don’t interpret Joni’s story as me saying God allowed Joni to break her neck and become paralyzed so that He could do a deeper emotional and spiritual healing. She broke her neck because out of her immaturity she broke the law of physics and dove into shallow water which was impacted by immovable soil. Human error, laws of physics, and immaturity were the culprits, not God. It’s my prayer that out of the ashes of these tragedies there will be more Joni stories. It took Joni several years to secure a new view of an old pain, but now she sees life more clearly. As a result of her accident God has used Joni to impact millions through her daily radio broadcast, her books, art, lectures and ministry called Joni and Friends. Millions of dollars have been given through her ministry to provide wheelchairs and numerous goods and services for others with physical disabilities.
None of us pray for disaster in our lives. But the song “Day By Day” shares how we should pray.
Day by day, day by day, O, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day. If pain is the path that answers that prayer than it will be worth it all when we see Jesus.
During these challenging times for our country and even during personal valleys that we must walk through in this life, God shows up in the prayers of His people, and His love is manifest through us.