The last several weeks have been a steady barrage of death, destruction, fear, and pain. Hurricanes brought wind and rain to the American coast and devastated the Caribbean. A gunman brought terror to Las Vegas and to our nation for reasons as yet unknown. Earthquakes have decimated entire towns in Mexico. In the middle of all of this, the question is asked, “Where was God”?
The question was asked of me in February, 2012 when a tornado ripped through the heart of Branson. I was pastor of a church just south of town and worked at Kohl’s in Branson as a second job.
The question was asked of me in the spring of 2015 when a co-worker lost her husband and was injured herself in a car wreck. The wreck happened on the way home from visiting a rental property that had been ransacked by a tenant.
Where was God? If there is a God, and he is supposed to be so good, how could this happen? It’s natural, I suppose, to ask these kinds of questions. Some of the greatest discoveries in philosophy and enlightenment find their genesis in questions such as these. The attempt to reconcile human suffering with the concept of a benevolent, kind, and loving God can be arduous for even the strongest of believers, and no doubt more so for those who struggle with faith or don’t believe at all.
So how did I answer them? How do I answer now?
My thoughts almost invariably turn to the story of Job. If you are not familiar with Job’s story, take a few minutes and read this summary to get a sense of what happened. Also, take a moment to read the first two chapters of Job, here. There are a few points in this narrative that I believe speak directly to tragedy of all kinds, especially tragedy that affects those we see as innocent.
God brought Job to Satan’s attention
“Have you considered my servant, Job?” It is important to understand that it was not Satan’s idea to come after Job. God directed him to His servant. How does this bring me comfort? Doesn’t this make God some sadistic madman who takes pleasure in the pain of humanity? What Job was not aware of, and what we often cannot see, is that God was and is doing 10 million things beyond what is immediately seen and known.
In Job’s case, God’s plan would eventually accomplish two things. First, Job’s faithfulness was rewarded when his possessions and wealth was returned two-fold. God gave him more children, not as replacement for the children he lost, but in addition.
Second, Job’s faithfulness was rewarded with an entirely new perspective of who God is and how He relates to His people. In the closing verses Job says, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted….Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).
God is always trying to teach us something. No circumstance is neutral. For the believer, our circumstances lead us to a closer relationship and a deeper knowledge of our Heavenly Father. For the unbeliever, circumstances are meant to lead to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus.
God put limits on Satan’s power
I have often sat with the family of a loved one who is facing a terminal illness, a family falling apart because of sin, or a parent grieving over a wayward child. In these times they sometimes lament the influence of Satan in the circumstances they are facing. Satan’s influence is the scourge of fallen humanity. He is the prince of darkness, the father of lies, and enjoys the freedom to steal, kill, and destroy. Yet, as I consider Job’s story, I encourage these families with this truth: Satan can only do as much as God allows him to. Satan is on a leash, and God is holding the other end. Consider Job 1:12, “The the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he (Job) has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’” Also consider Job 2:6. After Satan’s first round of attacks against Job failed, Satan asks permission to attack his physical person. God tells Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Be assured, Christian, that God holds the reigns of Satan’s power. If He looses the reigns it is for a purpose. Satan is but a pawn in the hands of a omniscient, omnipotent chess-master.
God establishes His sovereignty over His creation…including us
The bulk of the rest of the book of Job is a diatribe from God, helping Job understand his place. When Job has finally come to a place where he begins to question God and His motives, God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me” (Job 38:2-3)! Basically, God is telling Job he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and needs to put on his big boy pants because he’s about to get an education. Then, for the next four chapters, God excoriates Job for doubting God’s power and goodness. He reminds Job that He is the creator and sustainer of all nature. The ocean waves go no further up the beach than God allows. The rain falls exactly where He commands in the exact volume He commands.
I was once asked by a seminary professor if the concept of God being sovereign over and in charge of ALL my circumstances, good and bad, was encouraging. To some, ascribing God this much power and control is untenable. For them, God is only in charge of the good things and anything bad is outside of His control. But I see it differently. If God is not in control of ALL my circumstances, yet wants what is good for me, then there is a force that can overcome His power. That is untenable.
So where was God?
So where was God in Houston, Key West, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Mexico and elsewhere? He was in the thick of it. Calling the shots and causing all things to serve His plan. Paul said essentially the same thing in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” There is no circumstance in your life that God is not directly involved in. What He doesn’t cause, He allows. He is in charge. If He allows it, there is purpose in it.
The question is, how do we respond? Do we recognize His power, love, and grace? You have an opportunity to see God’s power and surrender in faith that He is working everything for your good, culminating on the perfect life Jesus’ lived before He died to pay the punishment for your sin. You have an opportunity, if you have already experienced coming to a saving faith, to know God more, and discover new ways that He wants to use you to accomplish His plan. Whichever opportunity lies before you, take it.
Blessings – Josh