Where is God in this time of increasing hate crimes, corruption, violence, injustice, pandemic surges, poverty, global economic, and health crisis?
Why God? It is a painful question of someone grieving over the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, pulled down into a place of unfathomable feelings of void and misery. It is the desperate outcry of health care workers, overwhelmed by the large bouts of the daily grind. It is the agonizing bolt of pain shooting through the nerves and muscles of someone in the hospital bed, gasping for air and clinging for hope to live longer. It is the profound and disabling emotion of someone struggling alone in the cave of depression. It is the wave of pain of families and friends longing for conversation and connection, detached by social distance and lockdowns.
A strange concatenation of events came crashing into our lives in 2020. Millions have lost their jobs and a myriad cases of coping with anxiety. Darkness hovered when the COVID-19 plague spread, taking away millions of precious lives across the globe.
And yet cases and deaths continue to rise after a year of worldwide battles and despite ongoing vaccine efforts. The surge of mental health issues foresees another wave of the pandemic that many of us are ever more daunted by uncertainties of what is to come. Hope seems grim. To have faith seems a hard fight this season.
There is no denying the aftermath of pain and suffering. It is beyond our own ability to cope. In one way or another, we have asked the same questions: Where is God in all of these? Why me? Why us? Why God?
The truth is that the Scripture is filled with relevant stories and hurting companions who understand the painful questions that life keeps asking. These narratives tell us that it is certainly not bad to whine, complain, yammer, or vent our sentiments to God.
How did these bible characters face the hard questions in their desperate moments? What can we learn from them?
DAVID laments from a broken heart, “Why do You stand far away, Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?”
Psalm 10:1 was the frustrated question of David to the seeming inactivity of God against the success of the wicked.
The Book of Psalms gives us a picture of a person who grieves and praises in words, songs, and harps. His writings are soul-deep and the outpouring of his emotions echoes an intimate relationship with his Creator. No wonder he was called “a man after God’s own heart?”
Despite his nearness to God, he still experienced desperate moments, unanswered prayers, and silence from the lover of his soul. And yet, his sorrow invariably ends in confident surrender and songs of praise, tenaciously trusting in the firm knowledge of his Lord who is Sovereign, Omnipotent, and All-knowing.
“But as for me, the nearness of God is good for me; I have made the Lord God my refuge, so that I may tell of all Your works.” Psalm 72:28, NASB
When the hurt runs deep, David teaches us to love the nearness of God. We can desperately run and cry out to Him with all that we are. We can trust Him in unshakable faith even in the absence of tangible answers, knowing that the One we cling to is the God who is in control of life.
JOB painfully utters his hardest question, “Why have You made me Your target?”
The story of Job tells us that good people also experience the excruciating pain of loss and suffering. When he lost everything in his life, like David, he poured his heart’s woes and complaints to God. He asked Him a hard question, “Why have You made me Your target?” (Job 7:20, NIV)
Despite walking on the rough edge of misery, he remained remarkably committed to the knowledge of Who God is and His Sovereignty. He never once abandoned his faith even amid his unbearable pain and even when his friends made his sorrows worse through painful insults and shaming.
“At least I can take comfort in this: Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One.” Job 6:10, NLT
The story ends with God amply responding to Job’s distress and sufficiently rewarding him more than what was lost in his life. He lived for 140 years and “then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life (Job 42:17).” His pain was not in vain.
When suffering gets overwhelming, Job teaches us to fix our eyes on Who God is, the One who “can bind the chains of the Pleiades and loosen the Orion’s belt (Job 38:31)”, the One immortal, knowing the end from the beginning.
We can honestly ask Him hard questions without turning away from Him because, like Job, we have no idea of the good He can replace from the broken fragments of our lives.
HABAKKUK complains in desperate prayer, “Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?”
Like David, the prophet Habakkuk was also profoundly anxious in the seeming hibernation of God against evil and injustice. The first chapter portrays a frustrated prophet who uttered his complaints in prayers, waiting patiently at his watchtower for God to respond.
Eventually, God replies and assures Habakkuk of His justice according to His ways and timing, “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” (Habakkuk 2:3)
Even though God did not give a specific date or time, Habakkuk extraordinarily responds in worship instead of worry.
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Habakkuk 3:17-18, NLT
In times we can’t understand the ways of God, Habakkuk teaches us to live by faith, looking out expectantly while waiting on the Lord, knowing that He works out all things for our good.
Instead of worry, we bow down in worship to the all-powerful God whose glory covered the heavens and praise filled the earth. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
JESUS bleeds in pain, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
One of the final words of Jesus before He breathed His last characterized a piercing torment of lonesomeness and abandonment.
When He cried out to His Abba Father, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV), He perceived and acknowledged our own feelings of abandonment.
He is fully aware of humanity’s suffering and utterly validates our pain and the torture of God’s seeming silence in times of grief. His painful “why” on the cross conveys the depth and extent of His grace to our own questions.
Perhaps that cry on the cross was the darkest moment of Jesus. Nonetheless, He endured the harrowing pain of agony so that we can behold the new life, new hope, and share the glorious light with Him.
Our painful questions matter to Him, but most importantly, we matter to Him. The Cross is the tremendous expression of His answer to all our questions. His sacrificial love on the Cross is our living hope, the bedrock on which we build our sense of being and security in this temporary, dying world.
Where is God in this time of seemingly unfortunate events?
He is “seated on a throne, lofty, and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1)” and His eyes are “in every place, watching the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).”
In God’s vocabulary, suffering does not have the last word in humanity. One day, in His appointed time, His perfect justice and authority will completely defeat the works of evil. Injustice, violence, poverty, sickness, wars, and wickedness will fall at His feet. Suffering will lose its power and there will be no more tears of grieving and despair.
When that time comes, our “whys” will turn into wonders.
We await that day.