February 25, 2014
You know the famous hymn “It is well with my soul”? Well, today it is not well with my soul… I’ll get to that in a moment.
One of the more thoughtful and prolific Christian writers of the past 35 years is Philip Yancey. From his first book Where is God when it Hurts, Yancey has not hesitated to take on the really difficult questions of the faith. Not as a theologian; aloof and distant, but as a real person, vulnerable and asking serious heart wrenching questions. A few additional titles: Disappointment With God , Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants , Church: Why Bother?: My Personal Pilgrimage , What Good Is God?, and his most recent book The Question That Never Goes Away: Why?
Ellen got me this most recent book as a gift for our anniversary since she knows I appreciate Yancey. I’m sure she didn’t know the impact it would have on me. From one gut wrenching page to the next he recalls a number of natural disasters that have happened on the planet in the past few decades. But that’s not all… he also reminds the reader of senseless terrorist attacks and the death of children in schools across this country with an emphasis on the little ones at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Truthfully, outside of a book I read in college called “The Painted Bird” this is the only time I have had to set a book down over and over again as I painfully work through the dreadful realization of broken lives.
And of course the “question that never goes away” is this, “Why, God!?” The difficult part of that question is not, “Why do bad things happen?” That’s actually fairly easy to answer in some instances. Dreadful things occur because we live in a broken, evil, wicked world. People are sinful, selfish, egocentric… and mentally ill. All of that leads to dreadful happenings, like the attempted extermination of whole peoples. Of course that does not address the cause of “natural disasters” outside of the fact that the planet is also broken due to the sin of human beings. This is much more complicated and I’m going to have to leave it at that for now.
The real question is this, “Why, God? Why do terrible things happen, when You could have done something to stop them?!” See, that’s where the rubber really meets the road. What kind of a God do we actually believe in!?
What was God up to on December 14, 2012 when Adam Lanza took two pistols and a semi automatic weapon from his mother’s house and walked into her bedroom and put four bullets in her as she lay sleeping? Where was God when Lanza drove to Sandy Hook Elementary and shot his way into the building? He passed one first grade classroom before entering the class of Lauren Rousseau, a substitute for a full time teacher on maternity leave. He shot Rousseau, a special education teacher, and 14 first graders. The police later found 14 little bodies huddled together, each with 2 bullets in them. In the next room the teacher hid 20 students in a closet and told the shooter that the children were in the auditorium for a special program. Several of those hiding made a break for it and he shot them dead. He then proceeded to shoot the rest along with their teacher who was found lying on top of her students whom she tried to protect.
Why, God? Where were you?
I would like to answer those questions in a way that helps. But if I could then it would not be “the question that never goes away,” would it?
Let me at least suggest this. Yancey defines faith as, “… believing in advance what only makes sense in reverse.” Do you get that? Faith is believing in something that will happen that might only makes sense as we look back on it. And of course we all know that it’s very possible that looking back may never make sense either. And second, we believe in a God who chooses to walk through disasters with us rather than prevent them. That is a distinctive of the Christian faith. (That being said we have no idea how many disasters God HAS prevented) There is no pain or tragedy that will ever befall us that God has not already faced Himself. He knows the depths of our suffering.
I know, I know. These comments tend to raise more questions than they answer. Thus my sadness as I am reminded of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed 240,000 people in Indonesia in 2004. Or the Tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 killing over 18,000 people and causing a nuclear disaster. Or 9/11? Or Sandy Hook? Need I go on?
I know… these are not the issues that we present to those considering Christian faith. It’s not the “pretty side” of Christianity. We try to avoid them and only talk about a God of love. I get all that. But the sadness still comes.
“Jesus, I love you…, but there are many things I don’t understand. Forgive me for my lack of trust in You.”