Where has God gone? I think it a pertinent question considering that lately we seem to be surrounded by so much death. Everywhere we look death seems to be the victor: suicides, overdoses, bullying, abortion, movies, Ebola, terrorism, gossip and on and on. How do we make sense of all this suffering and evil; how do we justify this tidal wave of evil that seems to be sweeping across our world? Where is God in all this mess?
In the last two weeks my parish community has lost four young people to various causes. Let me tell you, there is no grief like a parents grief. I know this because there is no love like a parent’s love. The mere thought of something awful happening to my own child… it’s enough to make the strongest man tremble. So where is God in all this? Where is the loving Father Almighty? So often it seems like Bette Midler had it right when she sang, “God is watching us from a distance.” But that’s the thing, he’s not watching us from a distance. He’s right here, right now, right always. My pain is his pain, my grief is his grief, my sorrow and joy and love and hopes and fears, he knows them and loves me through them.
A few weeks ago I came home for work around 7:30PM and found the house quiet except the TV. I walked over to the living room and found my two boys (5 & 3) sitting on the couch looking miserable. I went over to them and found their faces all puffed out like Will Smith’s in his movie “Hitch” after he ate the shell fish. It turns out that earlier that afternoon while playing in the side yard they stirred up a yellow jacket nest (they make their homes in the ground). They were instantly swarmed and came running into the house surrounded by dozens of yellow jackets. They each received almost 20 stings all over their little bodies. As I gently held them I felt their pain and my heart broke for them. I was with them in that moment and though they couldn’t imagine that I suffered with them, I did.
And therein lies the beauty of the Father Almighty. He is God with us. Now, I know we usually call Christ the Emmanuel (God with us), but do you realize that where Christ is, there is the Father?! As Christ said, “He who sees me sees the Father,” and again, “The Father and I are one.” Now, I’m not saying they are one in the same person, but the three persons of the Trinity are so intimately united that they are one God and while we distinguish between their persons and work, where one is, all three are. The Father doesn’t just sit on his golden throne watching his will being accomplished. He is in our midst, loving us, near us, in us and through us. He truly is God with us!
One of my favorite passages in the Bible (I have a lot) is 2 Corinthians 6:16, 18: “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people… and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’ “
Do you hear that? We are his temple. Make no mistake, a temple isn’t simply an empty building where people gather to pray. It is the footstool of God! It is the dwelling place of the Most High. He has pitched his tent among us. And you are that temple! You are his dwelling place; the creator of the universe is closer to you than you are to yourself! ALLELUIA! And more than that, you aren’t simply his dwelling (as if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, but you are his son or daughter. He has claimed you as his own and he loves you!
As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “It is not man who is on the quest for God but God who is on the quest for man.” When I first heard that I was stunned. All this time I thought it was I searching for meaning and for hope when in reality it was God within me, calling me and running to me, searching for his little lost helpless, hapless sheep. Why? Because he loves me, because he loves you. Why did God create the universe? Because he loves you. Because he loves everyone? No. Because he loves you. The Father has had an image of you (singularly you) in his mind for all eternity, waiting for the moment that you would come into existence so that he could love you. Every single star in the universe exists so that God could love you. Every single star. Here’s a sliver of what I’m talking about:Yeah, that’s all for you.
If you were the only person in the history of the world to exist, ever, he still would have done Every. Last. Thing. He’s. Ever. Done. All for you.
There’s no way he could remain passive on his golden throne while you were down here away from your home. He’s simply too madly in love with you.
Ultimately, I would say that making sense of why we suffer is easy… we are the cause of it. Our sin brings chaos and suffering into the world. But just understanding why it happens doesn’t really make it any easier, doesn’t give it any meaning. What makes the difference is understanding that we’re not alone in our suffering. That our sin, and the chaos it creates doesn’t have the last word. God does. God brought order out of chaos once when he created the world and he continues to do so each moment that he allows creation to persist. His plan, his will, his love will be accomplished… not in spite of our weakness but through it. His almighty power is made manifest in our weakness. He is God with us, he loves with us and suffers with us and redeems that suffering through the love of his Son. And that is what gives hope.
If you ever doubt that then meditate on my all time favorite passage in the entire Bible… Romans 8:28-39, “We are being slain all the day long, we are as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us [for not even death] will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As long as we draw breath there is hope and when our last breath leaves our body, and it is finished, then our hope and our faith will be no more and only the light of the Love of God will remain. Every tear will be wiped away, every grief, even the loss of a child, will be turned into dancing for we will see God face to Face and we will know we are loved.