(originally posted 2/28/2021)
The messiness of life has often challenged us to question what God is up to. If there even is a God. If you believe that God is up in the sky doling out rewards or punishments and you never received that promotion, perfect partner, or winning lottery ticket you begged him for, you may be very confused. If your words of wisdom for a friend who just received a terminal diagnosis are, “This must be God’s plan for you so suck it up buttercup”, then your understanding of God is likely skewed a bit….actually A LOT!
Many of us may be experiencing a significant crisis of faith and lack of understanding of just who this God is that we worship. At the core of the confusion may be the age-old question of where God is in the midst of all the tragedies and disasters we are witnessing. All of us have been affected, some more personally than others.
There are also those who seem impervious to human suffering, believing it only happens far away in third-world countries. I’m not sure how they’re able to deny the reality of so much despair and misery, but it would be necessary I suppose, if they want to keep it from affecting them, from reaching down into their very being and ripping their hearts out.
But we can’t avoid it when it’s up close and personal. That’s when we question why God isn’t fixing all of this when we diligently pray for him to intervene? What kind of God would just sit back and ignore all the pain and suffering? Do I even believe in him?
Is it possible to step back, take a deep breath, and start admitting that there are no words for, no answers for, the suffering? Can we stop putting God in a box we’ve created to comfortably define him? Can we allow him to be Mystery? And can that be okay?
You will not receive “answers” or certitudes from me because I gave up trying to figure him out a long time ago. I can now live with the possibility that life can sometimes just be a crap shoot. I wake up in the morning, not knowing what the day will bring. Will I get cancer or a call from a long-lost friend? Will I win a new car or get run over by one? Will the cop who catches me speeding be cheerful and forgiving or a poopyhead? Is today my last day here? I have no idea.
Let’s recap all the terrible things that have happened in the past year and revisit the “where is God” question. (It’s very telling that I am reposting this on 2/25/23, two years later, and there is nothing in these statistics that could not apply today.)
The following list of the pile-on of disasters comes from the CDP Website: https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2021-winter-storms/.
- Devastating Winter Storms: “Two back-to-back winter storms (unofficially named Uri and Viola) landed a one-two hit across the U.S. in mid-February 2021, affecting many southern states that are unaccustomed to cold temperatures, snow or ice. The storms left extensive power outages, boil water advisories, deaths and vehicular accidents across a multi-state area in their wake.”
- COVID destroys lives: Feb. 11, 2021: The U.S. case total is 28,542,904 with 505,795 deaths and 18,707,002 recoveries. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but more than 25% of its COVID-19 cases with minorities suffering the most.
- Racial injustice: Being killed by police is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for Black men and boys. Other people of color, including Latino men and boys, Black women and girls, and Native American men, women and children, also experience higher rates of death due to police violence than their white counterparts.
- Devastating wildfires: The 2020 season was a record-setting one for the state of California and the United States as a whole.
- Atlantic hurricane season: At the conclusion of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season – damage assessments for many storms came in at well over $1 billion. The total cost for the 2020 season was almost $47 billion. More than 430 people lost their lives.
- Southern border humanitarian crisis: As of December 2020, the Southern Border Communities Coalition reports that 118 people have died since 2010, including several who died while in Customs and Border Protection custody….problems of overcrowding, lack of hygiene facilities and health care access, as well as food shortages. The conditions in camps for unaccompanied children have been reported as deplorable, lacking in food, health care, water, sanitation, hygiene, and other services. Children have died or become severely ill in these camps. There are currently more than 500 children separated from their families at the border, and those families cannot be found.
Of course, there’s more, and getting into the details of the pain and suffering would surely add to the stress, anger, and fear that causes so many of us to shake a fist at “heaven”; at a void, we may have once believed housed God. Some are asking, some demanding, that God show himself and answer for his lack of concern for us.
I want to introduce you to Kate Bowler. She wrote a book titled, “Everything Happens for a Reason; and other lies I believed” in 2018, when she was thirty-five-ish and diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She was given two months to live. Know how she would respond to the question “where is God”? “When I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved.” She managed to get past stupid people saying stupid things and discovered God was revealed in the likes of all those who loved on her, quietly sat with her, and took care of day-to-day tasks in myriad ways.
Bowler speaks from her experience and from “great works of Christian theology”. She said, “The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. When the feelings recede…they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God. It is not proof of anything….It was simply a gift. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.“
You may not recognize God because everywhere you turn he’s disguised as someone who looks like your grandmother or brother or that kid down the street who raked your leaves last year when you broke your leg and refused any money – remember? That was God.
He’s been right here all along:
- From owners turning their stores into warming centers, to a mystery man handing out $20 bills to shoppers in Houston.
- Texans have instinctively turned to helping others. One such figure is Raymond Garcia of Houston, Texas, who, upon realizing he had no power at home, decided to use his time helping others.
- Houston resident Max Bozeman II, who was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic, knew first-hand the importance of asking for help in difficult times. After posting to Instagram saying he would give out $100 to ten people who needed the money for groceries, he received a deluge of messages. He ended up handing out 70 gifts of $100 each and says he’s prepared to part with as much as $10,000.
- Jason Spenser, the Public Affairs Director for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office tweeted about another remarkable character, a man dubbed a food ‘angel‘. When electricity outages meant the Foodarama could no longer accept credit and debit card payments, the unidentified man began handing out $20 bills to people waiting in line.
- In Elgin, Texas, Monica Nava, owner of the Chemn Cafe, put in a big order just before the storm hit. Rather than see perishable items go to waste, she boxed them up with shelf-stable goods into care packages. She gave the packages to in-need members of the community.
- In San Antonio, one Good Samaritan at the Martini Ranch bar put on a free grill complete with lobster bisque for anyone in need of a meal.
- Another Houston hero is Jim McIngvale, better known locally as Mattress Mack. McIngvale opened two of his furniture stores to be used as warming centers. “Anybody who needs it—whether they’re homeless, whether they lost power, whether it’s just wanting to come in and get something to eat.
- Texas Nurse and Mom Stays Behind to Help Neighbors: I Had to ‘Make Sure They Were Still Alive’ “It made me very aware that we had to stay to help,” she added. “There were opportunities for us to leave, and it just wasn’t an option anymore.”
- Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso and HOPE Border Institute Announce ‘Border Refugee Assistance Fund’ to Aid Migrants at the US-Mexico Border. Thousands of migrants, mostly from Central America, are currently stranded in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Grants from the fund will be used to support the initiatives and shelters providing for the immediate humanitarian needs of migrants in Ciudad Juárez, the majority of which have been organized by faith communities. Bishop Seitz said, “Here we have a real opportunity to serve Christ in the migrant.” Faith communities and individuals across the country have asked how they can help at the border.
God spottings of kids going beyond caring to “being” Christ in a hurting world:
- Haley Bridges, 17, of Appleton, Wisconsin, knew her friend and fellow Chick-fil-A employee, Hokule’a Taniguchi, 19, was commuting to work in the Wisconsin winter by bicycle. So when she learned she had won a car at a company Christmas party raffle in December, she knew exactly who she wanted to gift it to. (Got that?! A 17-year-old gave a car away!)
- A 10-year-old boy decided to thank the front-line heroes battling the relentless coronavirus pandemic by clearing snow off their cars outside a Rhode Island hospital this week.
- Eight-year-old Cavanaugh Bell lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “I spread positivity to inspire others to change the world. Because the pandemic left so many in need, I decided to make care packs to help elderly people in my community.” Cavanaugh initially created his care packages for elderly people in his neighborhood using his own savings from birthday and Christmas money. As word spread and donations grew, he and his mom opened a food pantry called Love is Greater than COVID-19.
- Madison, Wisconsin — Morgan Marsh McGlone started a virtual lemonade stand last spring to raise money for a local food charity that lets people pay what they can.
Pope Francis asks: “Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another to get up? This is today’s challenge, and we should not be afraid to face it.”
Remember the story of the stupidly rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s gospel? (Luke 16:19-31) We often think the story is about how the rich man refused to help Lazarus and was likely annoyed by Lazarus’ presence in his front yard. But, it is more likely he didn’t even notice Lazarus. His life’s obsessions were himself, his image, and his “stuff”.
Jesus warned us about our attitude toward the poor in Matthew’s gospel: When we find ourselves having to ask, “But, when did we do that? I don’t remember doing that!” Jesus responds, “Whatever you did or didn’t do for the least of these – you did or didn’t do for me”.
So, where is God? He’s as close as your mirror. You will only “see” God when you are doing something to relieve the suffering of others, when you are his hands and feet.
Lord, help me to be “more like you and less like me”! (Beautiful song by Zach Williams – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkYL1b7MCEw&list=RDfkYL1b7MCEw&start_radio=1
A huge challenge I know, but I also know this is what gives us the the greatest joy!