Where Was God?
The question of suffering on the ground in New Zealand.
Where was God? That is the question I found myself speaking to last weekend in Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch is a beautiful city whose cultural memory now lies somewhere between the ruins of a devastating earthquake and the horrendous evil that was the recent massacre amongst the Muslim community. Often the experience of natural suffering or moral evil alone is enough to sow doubt amongst the fields of faith or to solidify a secular nihilism.
So how would God speak to a people so steeped in suffering? How are we to be Christ’s church in a place like Christchurch?
Over the course of my trip, I had a chance to visit one of the two mosques targeted by the gunman. Locals of every tribe from this uniquely bicultural nation had left tokens of their compassion. The fence line was beautified by flowers, cards, and white stones upon which were printed names, notes, and poems. I stood there silenced by these outpourings of solidarity. I was reminded that God spoke best through Job’s friends when they said nothing at all but were just there, silent with him in the dust. Even more, we have in Jesus Immanuel: God with us.
And yet, silent presence is not all that Scripture promises. God speaks. From Genesis to Revelation, God does not shy away from the raw and complex reality of evil and suffering. As over 600 people packed the public event on this question in Christchurch, I shared from the heart of how I have found hope and healing in God’s words. For this is a question through which I have had to wrestle in the aftermath of my own personal tragedies. What melted my own skepticism was the weight of my deepest intuitions and how, in Scripture’s story, God offers me a way of making sense of the evilness of evil and the wrongness of suffering.
What melted my own skepticism was the weight of my deepest intuitions and how, in Scripture’s story, God offers me a way of making sense of the evilness of evil and the wrongness of suffering.
Jesus is God’s answer to our every heart cry. For those in the audience whose eyes were filled with tears, or whose hearts were filled with anger, I spoke of Jesus. If you really want to know how God feels about our suffering, and how He feels towards evil, then Jesus is the window. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. And nowhere have I found a response like his. For Jesus wept with grieving sisters. He stood up to injustice, sickness, and death as if they were enemies of humanity. Jesus painted a future devoid of evil and its symptoms of suffering—one where he personally would be within reach to wipe salty tears from our eyes. He spoke of a bigness to God through which even tragedy can bring about positive change, and where the power of resurrection can make all the sad things come untrue. And when all words were said, and no more answers could speak to our wounds, he suffered wounds himself. Jesus’s excruciating suffering and death prove forever that our suffering is not a sign of the absence of divine love.
Only a suffering Savior can speak to a suffering city. May we as Christ’s church extend this much-needed hope in both the silence of compassionate presence and in the wisdom of healing speech.