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!