There are days when I find it easy to believe in God, when I am astounded by the beauty of creation, when I see the compassion of people towards someone in need or when in a way I cannot express I feel God’s presence in an overwhelming way. Today was not one of those days, today was a day when I held on to my faith by my fingertips. Its hard to hold on to faith in a powerful and loving God when around 20 innocent children are gunned down. The shooting in the States fills me with many questions but I can offer no answers which are more than cliches right now.
One thought has been in my mind since the story broke, “where was God?”
Where was God as those children were gunned down?
Where was God when the parents cried out in a despair beyond words, “Why?”
I am assuming I am not the only person asking those questions tonight so I thought I would share how I am thinking about those questions. As I said I have no easy answers but I think I am groping my way towards a way of thinking about the horror of today which keeps me holding on to my faith. Strangely, or perhaps providentially, I have been thinking a lot about Jesus revealing God this week, partly because it was a big part of the message that Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost challenged us as they spoke about mission, the Kingdom of God and the church. I have also been thinking about the Incarnation and deity of Jesus because we are in the final run up to Christmas. Here is where reflecting on the fact that Jesus is 100% undiluted humanity and deity, that Jesus is as Paul famously said, “the image of the invisible God.”
GOD WAS IN THE BROKEN BODIES OF THE CHILDREN
Some things never change, in that part of the Christmas story we tend to ignore because it has nothing that is either cute or sentimental, we are told that children were massacred by an evil man and we were confronted by the same story today not in Matthew’s Gospel but from our TVs. History reminds us that despite so much changing, so little changes, evil and violence still prey on the innocent, weak and defenceless. But where is God when evil seems to prevail?
I know of no other place I can go with that question except to the foot of the cross. On the cross we are confronted by that same perennial story of evil and its apparent triumph, a young innocent man killed in cold blood by evil men. Yet as a Christian I believe that the victim of evil is, in a mystery beyond comprehension but accessible through revelation, God himself. God himself dying at the hands of evil men, allowing himself to experience the injustice, pain and death that has been experienced by millions down the centuries and about 30 today. I am reminded that in the gospels we read of a God as dead at the hands of evil as those children are tonight in Connecticut.
That leads me to tentatively say that God in Christ has identified to the point of death with the innocent victims of evil and violence. Faced with the reality of human evil and all its violence which seems so powerful and unassailable to us on days like to day, God did not turn away in apathetic indifference. Instead he stepped into our world of violence and eventually surrendered his hands and final breath to it. However we struggle to relate to God on days like today the one thing we cannot do is say, He does not understand or doesn’t do anything about evil for we worship the crucified God, the God who did not shy away from death at the hands of the worst of evil humanity could muster.
On the Cross, I believe that Jesus was never more Emmanuel, God with us, with every human victim of violence, and that includes being with every murdered child in a small town school in America. For me that means no one understands the pain, the despair, the terror that those children went through than our God for He was with them, He willingly shared their experience. Not only did Jesus identify with the victims of violence through the cross, the Bible tells us that He triumphed over evil through the cross. In way in which our theology can never quite adequately explain Jesus took on and defeated evil on the cross. Jesus emptied their evil of eternal power and ensured its final demise. I wish that victory was fully experienced by us now, especially today but we are in Advent at the moment, the time when we remember that Jesus final victory over evil awaits his return. Confronted by the evil of todays events I find myself longing for Christ’s return and for the final defeat of evil more than I have ever longed for anything else.
GOD WAS IN THE CRIES OF DESPAIR OF THE PARENTS
If we really do believe that Jesus was Emmanuel, God with Us, then I think we can also say that God was not deaf to the cries of despair that must have gone up from every parent that was told the worst news any parent can hear. I find myself watching the news and crying out “why?” and hearing in my question an echo of the “Why?” uttered by Jesus in his final minutes of life. My mind comes to the very edge of its ability to comprehend when I try and get my mind round this, on the cross God, cries out “My God, My God, WHY, have you forsaken me”
All I can conclude as I ponder the cross and that most poignant of questions is that God even embraces the despair of God forsakeness that overwhelms us in the face of evil. I believe tonight as parents in Newtown cry out and shout in anger “WHY?” God understands that question more than any other question, having uttered those very words, I am astounded by the implications that God has tasted even the bitterness, rage and despair wrapped up in the cry of “WHY” in the face of evil.
So for me the only place from which I can start to think about the implications of today is when I stand in the shadow of the cross
Thank you for this encouragement! Blessings!
James, this is excellent. Thank you for some good theologizing about a tough issue.
Thank you. If we can see God in this, then we can trace His footsteps in every pace of life… Wherever… Whenever. God with us, in us, for us… Emmanuel!
I have just seen a tee shirt with “God where were you when these kids needed you” and below was God’s answer ” I am not allowed in the schools” and I felt that we should definately be putting God back into school. Everyone needs choices and we are denying this to our kids where they spend a good part of their day
… I am not sure about that
I agree with the general point that if we exclude God and his values from our culture there will be consequences. I am not sure that its right to say God allowed this because you in the States have banned prayer in school.
Thanks James. Great thoughts, impressive perspective. We were blessed to be in a local school hosting an event this weekend. I was sensitive to the faculty of the school. This morning, I met with the school principal as she finished up a meeting with her crisis team. She was visibly shaken, but strong in her faith and passion to care for children. Having spent so much time with her in the last week, I saw a different side. I so appreciate your thoughts.
Great article on this! I posted a video from Mike Huckabee on this if you want to watch it: http://inspirationalchristiansfortoday.com/2012/12/17/where-was-god-in-the-newtown-connecticut-shooting/
I had such a difficult time Friday morning, I called my lady friend, my sister- in- law not knowing what I was going to say. It was with such horror and I was so upset I didn’t have words to express my thoughts! What you have written and spoke have made a difference…Thank you!
Thank you I appreciate that
First time commenter, saw your post on the Friends of Arminian-Wesleyan thought FB group. I super duper appreciate what you are saying here. Thanks for not blaming God and for upholding His impeccable character.
Thanks, as Bonhoeffer wrote ” only a suffering God can help”