So Where Was God?

for the week of October 1, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Bullets fly at Columbine High, and children die. A tire blows out on a winding highway, and a family's husband and father dies. Planes turned into guided missiles slam into civilian targets, and thousands of innocent people from over 60 nations die in two planes and on the ground at the World Trade Center. Counterattacks begin against terrorists, and soldiers and civilians as well as terrorists die.

Events ranging from genocide to cancer to accidents take lives. Some of those lives are "mere statistics" by virtue of distance and unfamiliarity. But some of them are impossible to think of as statistics. He was my father. It was your wife and the mother of your two small children. Your child lies motionless in a coffin.

As the living stand by and wait our turn, we speculate. And that speculation becomes a platform both for confidence and skepticism. Some of us gather to pray. Others demand to know: Where was God when that horrible thing happened? Still others most of them surely unaware of how they damage faith in doing so certify every vile event a judgment from God's own hand.

The fact is that God has created us with real rather than make-believe freedom. We choose to do evil as well as good. That is why virtue and vice are terms with meaning. We don't do right things or pursue evil ends because God has written unalterable scripts for our lives. We make free and unforced choices.

A Holocaust survivor whose suspicions about God haunted him for half a century, Elie Wiesel finally wrote this to God: "At one point, I began wondering whether I was not unfair with you. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, implemented by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but you as well. Ought we not to think of your pain, too? Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven't you also suffered?"

May we not say the same of God on seeing the genocide in Rwanda, the cancer that took my father, the innocents who perished when a jet plummeted nose first into a Pennsylvania countryside, a young warrior who falls in pressing a just cause, or another civilian whose death is labeled "collateral damage"?

In case you have wondered where God was on some awful day in our human experience, now you know. He was suffering with the injured, dying, and grieving. Just as he did at Calvary. Just as he will until all things are made new at his return.

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