Where is God in this?

Rural Fire

Yesterday, on Christmas, my brother was called to help fight a fire. Tomorrow, I will be a pallbearer in a funeral. These events remind me that Christmas is not always a happy time. Sometimes Christmas can seem more like a tragedy than good news and great joy.

This holiday season there are many people hurting across the globe. People are suffering in much of the Middle East, France, and parts of Africa, as well as some areas of the US.  They are suffering from or grieving loss of life and the horror of terrorist attacks, deranged shootings, racial unrest, or other difficult situations. These anguishing experiences bring out this question – Where is God in all of this?

The beginning of the answer is in the Christmas story. Come take a look. Mary had it tough. Her country was occupied by a cruel government, her pregnancy caused her to risk being killed by her own people, she had to give birth in a barn while travelling, and she had to flee to a foreign country with her young child to keep him from being murdered. Joseph, with the same residence issues, had to believe Mary and his dreams instead of his own eyes which told him that he was not being played as a fool by a cheating fiancée.

When we talk about pain in the story of Christmas, we must not forget that all of the other boys in the region two years of age and under were murdered. For the boys of Bethlehem, Christmas was a death sentence. For their mothers and fathers it was a time of unspeakable pain and sorrow.  Here is how Jeremiah described it as quoted by Matthew:

BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”                                                                                   Matt.2.18 – NASB

Where was God in all that suffering? Here He is: Immanuel. Immanuel is one of the names given to Jesus, which means “God with us.” Immanuel means that in the middle of the cruel occupation, devastating fear, and widespread death, God was right there. Immanuel was experiencing it with them. Immanuel means that now, even in the middle of horrible circumstances, God is with us and knows how we suffer. Immanuel cares enough to not only experience the pain with us, but in our place endure greater pain. Immanuel means we have hope.

Immanuel is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us.




Damage from a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma last month.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to anybody? If God is good, why does He allow bad things in this world – sometimes terrible things?
Last month we had several very powerful tornadoes in our area. One of them came within one mile of our house. Thousands of houses were destroyed, billions of dollars of damage, hundreds of people injured, and more than fifty people killed. I attended the funeral of one of the victims whose father I knew. Hundreds of people were there…and amazingly, it was a hopeful, encouraging time. Everyone was supporting each other, seeking God together, reminding each other that God goes with us through our pain. God suffers when we suffer. And God brings good out of our suffering and His suffering.

I don’t know why God let the tornadoes happen – probably there are many reasons. Probably there are special reasons in the lives of each person who was affected. Some of God’s reasons might be difficult to accept if we knew them. But maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult if we saw how everything fits together.

The week after one of the storms, I was listening to a sermon on Sunday morning and noticed what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20).

You know the story of Joseph, right? His brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt, where he was falsely accused of assault and imprisoned for three years. Because of that, he met the king’s wine taster. Because of that, he met the king and saved Egypt from a famine. Because of that, his own family moved to Egypt. Because of that, the family grew into a large nation: Israel. Because of that, the Egyptians hated them and they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Because of their experiences in the wilderness and the Law that God gave them, they learned to trust God instead of themselves. Because of this, Israel was set on a path that would prepare them and even us to trust Jesus Christ. The evil done to Joseph was an integral part of the picture of God’s redemption of the world.

And this all began because Joseph’s brothers intended evil against him. Who fully understands God’s power to bring good out of evil? Certainly not me. But I think we can see glimpses of it at times, and those glimpses can help us to believe in bigger pictures like this one. This is part of living out God’s reality…in the middle of the reality around us. VOICE 2013 starts in less than a month and we’ll be talking about all kinds of stuff like this with more students and staff. See you there!