As I write this, I sit here with my infant son, sleeping soundly in my arms. My living, healthy children are all asleep in their beds, and for that grace I am grateful... especially today, given the tragic and terrible news of the murder of my fellow New Englanders. Tragedies like this cause many of us to pose the question, "Where is God?" One commentator opined, "If God can part the Red Sea, why can't he stop a bullet?" Powerful, emotional question, isn't it? And, before we get to some observations about God, we shouldn't glide past that raw, pain-filled inquiry. At some point, all of us have asked it, or something like it. In the face of horrible, seemingly senseless evil, where is God? Let me suggest an answer to such a question by saying where God is not.
God is not Absent. The timing of this tragedy is no coincidence. If the Advent tells us anything, it's that God is not some useless deity in far-off realms, but that He is very much with us. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was and is Emmanuel, God with us. God the Son took upon himself humanity, entered into our world, and walked among tragedy. He then left, but not without sending God the Holy Spirit—the omnipresent, comforting, powerful, and precious third Person of the Godhead. We may struggle to see him in these moments, yes. But we may not say He is not there. When the Son left Heaven and the Spirit filled men and women, God's absence ceased to be a possibility.
God is not Weak. Maybe God would like to stop evil, but it's just a bit too much for Him. How do we know this isn't true? Well, the scriptures are pretty clear about God's power. He spoke the entire universe into being, (Gen. 1). Moment by moment he holds all things in existence, (Heb. 1:3). And, most importantly, he actually defeated death itself in the resurrection of his Son, (2 Cor. 15:50-58). It cannot be that God is unable. For if he were, then he wouldn't be God.
God is not Unaware. Perhaps God isn't weak, then. He's just absent minded—a bit far off, distant—or too busy to be concerned with us. But the Advent doesn't allow us to think this, either. The Advent is the very divine stamp upon the human story. God in flesh becomes a man like us, with temptations like us, problems like us, subject to abuse like us, pain like us, and even death for us. Only the Christian God has stepped down from Heaven to identify with the murderous, senseless evil we've wrought upon the Earth. God the Father is very aware of what these weeping parents feel like today because he knows what it's like to lose a Son at the hands of violence and evil. God the Son is very aware of what it's like to be the victim of injustice, because he willingly and freely gave up the precious blood of life which pulsed through his veins so that we, in turn, may be washed free from our violence and brokenness by means of this crimson flow. He is not unaware, my friends. He knows deeply the pain of loss.
God is not Unloving. So why hasn't he stopped it? In what way may we conceive of God as loving in the light of such news? In this way: God has decisively defeated evil at the highest possible cost to himself and the free-est possible cost to us. For God so loved the world—the child-murdering, marriage destroying, war-fighting, injustice-perpetuating world—that he gave his only son. He gave his son to love, save, redeem, restore, rescue, and renew a world like that... a world like this... a world like ours. Perhaps in the face of seemingly senseless evil we have a harder time seeing God as loving. This only makes sense to us, because evil, at it's core, does not make sense—it is complete disorder, the unraveling of what is good, sensible, even rational. But remember this, evil is only senseless without God, not with him. Only God can make evil make sense because only God is powerful enough to rend good from it—even when to us it seems senseless. If in a moment of deep pain we jettison God, we jettison along with him any hope for good rising from the ashes of pain. But God is good at raising things up again, even from death. In fact, it's his speciality.
A Humble Prayer God is not absent. He is not weak. He is not unaware. He is not unloving. So what is He? He is here, and he hears. So I submit to you this prayer that I'm praying, and I invite you to pray it with me.
Father in Heaven, our hearts are broken and heavy with the loss of our children, our friends, our neighbors.Our sadness affects everything we see.
Please, God, bring comfort and peace to the moms and dads who've lost kids, to the kids who've lost parents, and the friends who've lost neighbors.
We pray with the saints for the last two millennia, that you would come quickly. You are our only hope. Only you can raise the dead. Only you can finally destroy injustice. Only you can deal with brokenness rightly, and finally. So please God, come quickly and do so. God, for those who are tempted to reject you, bring soft humility under your mighty inscrutable sovereign power and wisdom. Thank you that you saved me through the seemingly senseless tragedy of the murder of your Son, whom you raised for my salvation. I'm sure that act of violence didn't make sense to anyone at the time, and yet in your wisdom you wrought unceasing good from unimaginable evil.
So, God, I'm casting all my hope in you today. You're the only one I know who can do anything good with horrible violence. So, please God, do it. Do it in such a way that at the end of days, when all the dust settles, your greatness and beauty are magnified above and beyond all question, and in seeing you we find unstoppable joy.
In the name of your son, whom you lost, to save a murderous wretch like me. Amen.