God’s Heart in the Face of Human Tragedy

God’s Heart in the Face of Human Tragedy

We are all aware of the recent murderous rampage in Aurora, Colorado.  That violent outburst led to a FOXNews interview with an evangelical Christian who was asked, “Where was God in all this?”  It was this gentleman’s answer that prompted me to write my own response to that question, entitled “Where Was God When?”

In that piece, I asked how we Americans, who have attempted to remove God from our society in a myriad of ways, can “then question his whereabouts when tragedy strikes.”  I wondered how we can curse God and drag his name through the mud unendingly, on the one hand, and then, on the other, “have the audacity to expect that he show up in time to divert some disaster of our own making.”  I insisted that we, who have told God to get out of our lives, cannot “now demand that he ‘get to work being God’ just to clean up our messes, after which cleanup we, of course, want him to retreat again into the distance.”

Sadly, God is mostly absent from mainstream American life.  That is because we have pulled in the welcome mat, if not slapped him in the face.  Yet our astronomical rudeness does not mean that God does not care about what hurts us.  God is neither oblivious to our need nor innoculated against it by our spurning of him.  Not at all.  It is impossible to measure the depth of God’s grieving over human suffering.

This is an important thought that must be added to the conversation about God and human tragedy.  The enormous pain that God feels is beyond our capacity to grasp.  We cannot comprehend how his heart aches because of man’s inhumanity to man.

The surest proof of this sorrow in the heart of God is that, in Jesus, God entered into our suffering.  The Bible says that Jesus showed us what God is like (John 1:18; 14:6).  In spite of his never having sinned, Jesus’ committment to endure severe beating and execution by crucifixion leaves us open-mouthed and jaw-dropped.  Why would he do that?  There is more than one answer.  One is that God loves people — and likes them, too.  Another is that by his death Jesus paid the penalty due humans for their wholesale rebellion against their Creator.  No doubt the few correct answers coalesce to become one grand biblical answer.

The part of that grand answer I wish to highlight is this: God doesn’t want people to die without a relationship with him.  Through the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel, God made a declaration to ancient Israel that applies equally to all people of all cultures and ages:

I’ll judge each of you according to the way you live.  So turn around!  Turn your backs on your rebellious living so that sin won’t drag you down.  Clean house.  No more rebellions, please.  Get a new heart!  Get a new spirit!  Why would you choose to die, Israel?  I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.  Decree of God, the Master.  Make a clean break!  Live! (Ezekiel 18:30-32, The Message, emphasis mine)

The objection is already ringing in my ears: “Well, if God cares so much about humanity’s predicament, how can he send anyone to hell?”  Fair question.  I have stated it as it is typically asked; however, the wording of the question conceals an important part of the truth.  Since this question arises out of the biblical view of God, the answer must be a biblical one.  Balking at a biblical answer can nullify asking a biblical question.

God, in the face of our unanimous revolt against him, acted in Jesus to provide, potentially, opportunity for all to begin anew a submissive relationship with him.  It is potential because God does not force surrender to himself.  So every person who becomes aware of the chance to regain a relationship with her/his Maker must make a choice: repent and receive the life God offers, or reject it and remain spiritually dead.  The latter choice leads to an eternity without God — that is, hell.  Recall the words of God through Ezekiel: people choose to die.  This is the worst human tragedy!

Someone may say, “But what of those who have not heard?”  I don’t know that any one has not heard or will not have heard.  It seems more than likely that some have not or will not hear, but I simply don’t know that.  What I do know is that I have heard.  And anyone reading this has heard.  We can account only for ourselves.*  God is just and will handle perfectly the destinies of others whose names and faces we may never know.  We are accountable for our own responses to God’s offer of life.

Judgment day will come.  Though I have no biblical proof, I believe it will be a sad day for God.  If God has tears, they will flow.  I use to think that emotions such as joy and sorrow and anger were expressed only by earthlings; they were beneath the dignity of the Almighty, and when Scripture spoke of God as joyful, sorrowful, or angry, it did so only as an accommodation to human understanding.  No longer do I believe that way.  Rather, I believe we possess these emotions because they are part of being made in the image of our Creator.  Of course, they are expressed by God without any hint of sinfulness.  We can, and only occasionally, barely approach such holy behavior.

I cannot begin to imagine the seas of sorrow that will wash over God when many humans reach the place where there is no more hope of a restored relationship with him.  In fact, every day, every time someone dies having refused God’s offer of a renewed union with him, he feels this same pain.  Not only was Jesus’ flesh torn on the cross; there is a jagged tear in the heart of God.

Followers of Jesus are to become like he is, that is, like God is.  They must hold in tension two different passions.  One is that we cry out, on whatever platforms we are given, against the divorcing of God from human life.  The other is that we cry out before God on behalf of this same God-divorcing humanity.  To do either, we will need a biblically informed and visceral aquaintance with God’s own breaking heart.

*There is no room here to broach the matter of our responsibility toward others, though I am a missionary!

Dan Saglimbeni

Where Was God When?

Where Was God When?

I want to address something.  In light of the tragedy in Colorado, the question has been asked, with the usual regularity when something horrific like this occurs, “Where was God?”

This question exposes, at the least, a bad attitude toward God as well as ignorance of the relationship of humans to God, in general, and Americans to God, more specifically.

God created a perfect world, then placed humanity within it.  It did not take us — yes, “us” — long to wreck everything: we wrecked our relationship with God, we wrecked our relationship with each other, and we wrecked our relationship with the world.  We are solely responsible for the unravelling of life on earth.  I say “we” because, in one way or another, whether adamantly, with fist in God’s face, or quietly, without saying much, we have all rebelled against our Creator and decided that we can and will run our own lives.  God made us and he expected us to submit to him because he knows what’s best for us.  We decided to sail our own ships.

At that point, whenever that occurred for each of us, God owed us nothing.  NOTHING!  We deserve nothing more than a one-way ticket to fire lake, forever.  In the face of objections to that, I reply that it is not that we committed this or that sin that does not seem deserving of so stiff a penalty; no, it is that we have told our Maker that we know better than he how to oversee ourselves and our world.  That’s rebellion.  The magnitude of the rebellion is to be judged by the character and the grandeur of the one against whom it is perpetrated.

Though God owed no one anything, he chose to become one of us and die in our place, paying the penalty we deserved so that he could offer us another opportunity to submit to him and enjoy a relationship with him that he wanted in the first place.  He did not ask anyone’s opinion or permission about doing this.  It was entirely his idea.

Nevertheless, God, as can be seen from the fact of our rebellion against him, has given each of us the freedom to live in obedience to him or to reject his lordship.  All of us have chosen the latter.  Neither his creating us nor his acting in Jesus to redeem us has caused God to force us to obey him.

Because of our collective disobedience, creation has suffered.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, droughts, and the like are not “acts of God.”  They are the convulsions of a cursed earth, thanks to the sinful handiwork of humanity.  In other words, they are all, ultimately, our collective fault.

Our freedom of will means that we can choose to abort babies; we can choose to get drunk and run down some innocent person with a vehicle we should not be driving;  we can choose to shoot people at random, killing for no reason; or, we can choose to wreak any other kind of havoc of which humans are capable.  God does not do those things.  People do those things.

Where is God when these things happen?  At least two answers need to be given.  One is that God is in the same place he was when his own son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was nailed to a cross.  Jesus was blameless, utterly undeserving of being murdered.  But he did that for people anyway, so that they could be rescued from rebellion and cruel behavior.

The other answer is to say, Wait a second?  What do we mean “Where was God?”  Is God a butler, towel over arm, waiting for us to ring the bell so that he can respond to our beck and call?  How can we (I’m thinking particularly of Americans, since I am one and I know America better than any other nation), who have told God in a myriad of ways to get the he– out of our society, then question his whereabouts when tragedy strikes?  How can we, who “JC” this and “God da–” that, then have the audacity to expect that he show up in time to divert some disaster of our own making?  We’ve told God to get out of our lives.  He has done as we have asked.  Can we now demand that he “get to work being God” just to clean up our messes, after which cleanup we, of course, want him to retreat again into the distance?

How can those who, as a matter of course, as a regular habit, want nothing to do with God, question his whereabouts and lack of attentiveness to our self-created hells?  How can we be so arrogant?  How is it we are so expert at adding to our galactic guilt?

Of course, we want God to show up only when one of us is about to hurt others in certain ways.  We don’t want God to show up to stop other kinds of evil, like our personal sin.  We’re selective in what we want God to get involved in.  We want God around only for certain kinds of nastiness.  For most everything else, we want him gone.

Those who submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ, who pursue a growing relationship of intimacy with him, can expect God’s watchcare.  But even such a person as this cannot demand that God act in any particular way.  God is, God!  We are human.  We don’t know the first thing about what it’s like to be God, yet we question and rant about his behavior as though we used to be God and turned the task over to him.  We could know a lot more about God if we would give more attention to the book he has given us.  It claims to be, and it is, a revelation of God.

I barely know God.  But everything I know of him makes me love him and want to live for him.  Nothing in my 44 years of knowing this God causes me to question his actions.  My only questions for God are these kind:  How could you love us so?  How do you put up with abuse that is heaped upon you endlessly, and has been for millennia?  How is it that your patience did not run out ages ago?  How could you pay such a price to give us another chance to know you?

I like where God is: in control of everything, all the while giving humans their freedom to choose good or evil.  However, one day God will finally show up to say, “Enough wickedness!  No more violence and injustice.”  One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess: “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  We can do that now voluntarily.  Or we can do it then compulsorily.

God is not anyone’s — not any individual’s nor any society’s — personal genie.  Would we like him to pay more attention to us?  Then we should start paying more attention, a whole lot more attention, to him.

We have turned the question around.  After our original parents sinned, they hid.  God came, asking, “Where are you?”  That’s the question that we have to answer.  Relative to God, where are you?

One more thing: If you don’t like this answer because it is based on the Bible as a revelation of God, then what business do you have asking where this God is?

Dan Saglimbeni