“When we are overwhelmed by grief, pain, and suffering. When we have questions and need comfort in the midst of tragedy. We know that God is there with us. He is there to help you.” When I heard the words on the radio Saturday morning after the Newton, Connecticut shootings I had to pull over and write them down. It was a recording that has played multiple times on the Christian radio station over the past few days. What struck me most about the words was the fact that they played the song “I Love the Way You Love Me” by Jamie Grace immediately afterwards. I had already struggled that morning in finding the appropriate music for the somber mood of the weekends tragedy; and as usual Christian music couldn’t grasp those emotions. Everything was about hope, trust, and God’s strength. Where was the anger, the pain, the everlasting question of “why”? I wound up turning the radio off and driving in silence.
These are the moments in our lives that create the most confusion and doubt. It’s where the seed is planted that “if there is an all powerful god who infinitely loves you, why does he allow bad things to happen to good people? To innocent children?” For Christians we can trace that question through the history of mankind, even to the time before mans existence where Lucifer asked “if God is loving, why does He demand we worship him?” But God allowing bad things to happen doesn’t answer the question. “Sin Happens” isn’t the answer that Christians want as they watch 6 year old children gunned down while learning to read. In that moment we cry out “Are you there God? Do you see this? How much longer do you need to let this happen before You come back?”
This is where people begin to question the existence of God and Atheism starts to make sense. But the inherent problem with Atheism is that it would have you believe that everything happens by chance. For all the scientific inquiry and reasoning that goes into explaining our current existence, at the end of the day their belief is that life came into being by accident. I don’t know which I prefer, asking the question “Why does God let bad things happen” or relying on the statement “Shit Happens” as my default answer to life’s complex philosophical questions.
Where is God in the midst of all of this? I shocked my youth group Saturday morning by saying that Friday’s shootings had little effect on me. I remember watching as Timothy McVeigh destroyed the lives of 168 people, 19 of which were under the age of 6 in a daycare center. Then there was Columbine High School. It’s just another day in a world consistently flawed by people. As our global world has become increasingly smaller we see the death and suffering of hundreds every day and habitually turn a blind eye. And while I have a first grader whom I held closely over the weekend and made sure he knew how much I love him the fact remains that I don’t care, and shouldn’t care, about the tragic death of students in Connecticut anymore than the 21,000 other children who die from poverty and neglect every day. Friday was not the time where I asked “Are you there God?”, I’ve been asking that question for years. Does God see what has happened in Connecticut, Colorado, Japan, Haiti, Somalia…?
At what point do I stop praying “may my heart be broken by the things that break God’s heart”, turn heavenward and say “Are you seeing this? My heart’s broken, is yours?”
One radio DJ on the Christian station put it in a way I had never thought before. In the midst of crisis like this, many people point to the story of Job. You know, the man who God was so proud of he allowed Satan to destroy his life as a testament of Job’s faithfulness. The DJ pointed out that at the end of the story Job never knows why. God never shows up and says, “hey buddy, sorry about all the grief and heartache. I was proving a point to Satan and you made me look good.” Job just goes on with his new life and never knows the story behind his story. He will wait until heaven like the rest of us to turn to God and say “remember that time where all 10 of my kids were killed and I got boils all over my body? What was that all about?”
My faith tells me God sees. It tells me God feels. But how do I know? John Eldridge in his book Epic says “we find ourselves in the middle of a story that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes, awful, and usually a confusing mixture of both, and we haven’t a clue how to make sense of it all. No wonder we keep losing heart.” There are over 7 billion people on the planet making up one story of humanity, to which God can see the whole plot from beginning to end. And as God pointed out to Job, “who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge” (Job 38:1). Or in words I tell my children “I’m dad, I know what’s going on and you need to do as your told”.
Do I need to make sense of what has happened? Do I need to understand the author’s intentions before reading the final chapter? My choice is between whether there is something greater to all of this or that it is all happenstance. Even in the midst of anger, pain, and confusion there is a consolation in believing there is a God watching over the whole thing. I have someone to whom I can direct my minds questions and my hearts torment as I try to understand what is going on and why? Are you there God, because we need to talk.