Oh God, Where Art Thou?

In Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone16 Comments

Oh God, Where Art Thou?

Life is tragedy.

The tragic earthquake in Japan, an 8.9 rumble of devastation, reminds me of hard conversations I’ve had in the past. Conversations over coffee and tea about God, about Evil, and about tragedy.

Some might say the world’s just been given an 8.9 richter-scale sized reason to deny God’s existence. Or if He does exist, that He doesn’t care about what happens to us here on Earth.

On some level, that’s understandable.

Considering the quake and tsunami destroyed the lives  and livelihood of thousands of people will naturally lead to the age old, but still valid questions: Couldn’t God have stopped this? What good is having all power if you can’t save lives?

My heart goes out to those in Japan, to the survivors of fallen friends and family. To a nation ripped apart.

But I also think about the spiritual ripple effects, about those who will experience a quake of their own.

Tragedies can cause a spiritual shakeup that unearths our doubts and fears from the established, flourishing exteriors we show the world. Not only will many… many… raise doubts about the love of God in the scriptures, but many will be fueled by those fears to run as far away from God as possible. They’ll become emotional atheists, dead set on believing God could not possibly exists with the tragic loss of life so prevalent in our word. In this, the tragedy is two-fold. Physical and spiritual.

Double whammy.

Sure, times like these usually pull us together. People from all countries, religions, and worldviews usually provide collective aid to victims of sudden tragedy. And that’s normally a good thing. Echoes of the “goodness of the human spirit”  will bounce from local news reports, to barber shops and salons, grocers and street corners.

Love and charity will flow from the hands and hearts of Christians and non-Christians, alike. Even if for different reasons.

The Christians will credit the Jesus inside them as the source of the love they will show. But for many non-christians, it will inwardly feel as though they are doing God’s work for Him — that they are responding to his apparent neglect. In essence, they carry the, perhaps subconscious, idea that they are filling in God’s holes. Dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s. That their love and charity is being performed in spite of God, not because of Him.

These are the realities that Christians must face. The reality of how life forms the social perception of who God is, and how much He cares about us.

Thus, I contend the Christian is called to more.

It is not enough for us to respond to the physical need of those affected by tragedies. We must also be ready to respond to the spiritual shakeup of those around us, of those who allow tragedy to let the air out of the perception that God is love. We must be ready to engage in our primary fight, which is spiritual, as well. To do this, we need to tune our antennas to the spiritual ramifications of life’s downturns and tragedies.

When the world is asking “Oh God, where art thou?” (which sounds eerily familiar to Jesus’ cry on the cross “My god, my god, why has thou forsaken me”) we must be ready to confirm to them that God does care, that He is heartbroken at the loss of life. It says in 2Peter 3:9 that He does not want any of us to perish, that He wishes eternal life for us all.

Which, brings me back to spirituality. Because, when God is talking about “perishing” in that verse, I don’t think he means it in the physical sense. I think He means He doesn’t wants us all to experience eternal spiritual separation from Him.

Which may mean that our physical lives on this Earth are much higher on our priority lists, than they are on God’s.  Does that mean he doesn’t care for your Earthly life? No it doesn’t. But for us and our point of view, the physical is so magnanimous. For us, physical death is the ultimate evil.

But for God, our physical lives on Earth are temporal and fleeting. They are the first act of the play, the appetizer to the meal. And while Jesus did come so that we might have life more abundantly, the Bible is also clear that life will be full of trouble, and that it will rain on the just and the unjust.

But the gospel, the good news, is that our trouble won’t last always. That in the end, after this physical Earthly life, God will wipe away all tears. There will be no more death, sorrow or crying. No pain. The old way of things, the way of tragedy and death, will be gone.

This is the promise we must be ready to speak to. Love and charity for now, but spiritual salvation for eternity. Spiritual connection and relationship with God, forever.

There is so much more that could be said. What do you think natural disasters say about God? Are they his judgments, signs of his indifference, or evidence to his non-existence? Maybe none of those. Comment below and tell me.

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
16 comments
mike
mike

"But for God, our physical lives on Earth are temporal and fleeting. They are the first act of the play, the appetizer to the meal." Antwuan, I couldn't disagree more. That statement is more at home in gnostic thought than in Christianity. That view (along with the Calvinistic concept of the predestined chosen) was the theological underpinning of what what culturally and politically accepted in the antebellum south. I've noticed that when God's people are acting out God's incarnational love (when they are acting as Jesus acted, caring for peoples earthly needs with a joy, a love, a devotion that can only come from the Holy Spirit) then there is no need for them to defend or argue for a just and loving God. God doesn't need people to defend him, he needs people to live for him, to love for him - THAT is the only way we can show what a loving God he is. I have friends who were on the ground in Haiti, in Japan, in Joplin within 24 hours after the natural disasters occurred. In all cases they noticed that the issue of theodicy never came up when God's people were living out God's love by taking care of the victims. We can't treat the spiritual needs if we're not treating the holistic needs, which happens to be exactly what Christ did. The issue of theodicy only arises when we aren't doing our job by living out God's love on this earth, at this moment, today.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I don't think we HAVE to take Gen. 1-3 absolutely literally for it to be effective. But I do think we absolutely need Adam and Eve to be true figures. Especially since Jesus makes reference to them, and since much of our core elements of Original Sin depend on them.

cliffymania
cliffymania

It's an interesting dichotomy. Is an earthquake God's judgment on Japan? Well, if He's judging Japan then we should be next, or maybe first. The US likes to think of itself as a Christian nation, but we've clearly gone astray and God disciplines those He loves so He should be judging us first. But, the dichotomy is this, as you stated, some will see this as a wake up call to turn to God and others will see it a reason to turn away from God. I think Willian Lane Craig talks about how we view death versus how God views death. When someone dies there isn't a single thing we can do about it. However, God could just as easily kill everyone on the planet today and bring them all back tomorrow. He has that ability. So when someone dies, in our view, God sees them as simply changing dimensions, if you will. Given that, I cringe when I hear Christians say, it's God's judgment against that nation (blaming the victims, somebody hear said). But at the same time I pray that these disasters that are coming fast and furious these days will cause people to repent and turn to God.

Mark Hewerdine
Mark Hewerdine

Thanks for the reply. Think we're on same page a lot of the time. Re: "Death as normal". I don't mean death is fine, we're just part of the "circle of life" etc. But I believe entropy, decay, death of species etc. did happen before the fall - they are normal physical processes. I think that goes for whatever your view of evolution is; maybe only hard-core 6-day creationist would disagree strongly. I'm not arguing that Adam and Eve would necessarily have physically died if they hadn't sinned, though. But it is a hyopthetical issue since the story states they did. Having said this, I confess I don't take the story completely literally - as in all humanity derived from one woman and one man who lived in a literal garden which they were literally banished from which was then literally guarded by angels/flaming sword. I do take it to convey the essence of how humanity "fell", of the reality of sin entering creation, that human rebellion had a start point and is real, and that humans are personally accountable. Just wanted to explain this as I think ones view of Genesis 1-3 informs to a great extent how one views the nature of physical death and how it fits into God's intentions, his plan of salvation and our eternal end. Thanks for clarifying Revelation 20 issue - yep, on same page but surprising how little attention the resurrection of the dead as a material thing gets with Christian teaching.

James
James

We live in a broken world. The consequences of the fall of humanity is that the world has problems including natural disasters. I think the church can be too quick to "blame the victim" (New Orleans, Haiti, Japan) when disaster strikes, but is God shaking his cosmic "finger" at bad, bad, people, or are disasters just part of the result of a "damaged" creation? Judaism has a concept called in Hebrew "tikkum olam", which means "repairing the world". Rather than assuming that every person or every nation experiencing tragedy is being judged by God, we can take the opportunity to "work with" God, so to speak, and help fix some small part of the "brokenness". We all expect Jesus to come back and make everything right while we sit on our thumbs and go "oooh" and "ahhh", but wouldn't it be great if we actually loved our neighbor as ourselves and started lending a helping hand?

@lisa_dawn1
@lisa_dawn1

I don't think these types of natural disasters are a judgment from a strict God who sees that people have done wrong. I also don't think it is God not caring what happens to us on Earth. But I do agree that he is less concerned with our Earthly life than our eternal one. If everything was roses and rainbows on Earth, we wouldn't even notice that we needed God. If the climb up was all whipped cream, then we might never notice that there is a devestating crevasse just over the peak, that we need Him to help us conquer. And do we really notice how sweet victory is, if we have not also experience the agony of defeat. Thankfully, God does not "fix" everything for us.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Thanks for the comment mike... I don't mean to completely separate the charitable acts from the meeting of spiritual needs. I only mean that we don't need to be "christians" to be charitable. Many non-Christian moral people are able to show love and give of themselves for those. My post is meant to point out the difference between what God's people address and what the other charitable people address. God's, and thus our, concern must INCLUDE the spiritual aspect of the disaster which goes beyond those effected directly by the tragedy, but also those people who see God differently because He allowed it to happen in the first place. Further, I stand by the notion that the reason so many can't see God as loving is because they care more about THIS life than I believe God does. Not that he doesn't care at all, but not as much as we do. Jesus told many that those dead (including Lazarus) is "just sleeping" which is to put the tragedy of death rather mildly. The redemption we (christians) are waiting for will right these wrongs. But let me be clear. I don't mean to suggest an extreme idea... namely that this physical life we currently live doesn't matter. I believe it does matter, very much. But this not to the degree to God as it does to us.

mike
mike

Antwuan, BTW, though I disagree with you from time to time I still appreciate you as a brother in Christ as well as what you do here!

cliffymania
cliffymania

And also remember that when Jesus referenced them he also called us to believe what Moses wrote (John 5:47). And he doesn't qualify that. So, Moses wrote that in 6 days God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus seems to want us to believe that. Don't get me wrong, I don't think having questions about the 6 days is a salvation issue, but it seems to me that God went out of his way to say it was 6 days, and then Moses repeated it, and then Jesus affirmed it. It just seems like that's what God wants us to believe. My fear also (and I know I'm not the first to say this) is that if we start saying parts of Genesis 1-3 are metaphorical, then maybe parts of the resurrection are metaphorical, maybe the virgin birth is metaphorical. Now, the parables, those are metaphorical, but we have to differentiate between parable and history.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Indeed. I think we are all too ready to see God's judgment and thus see any negative impact as God moving. But this also brings us back to God's control and what that actually looks like. If we believe God is in control, fully, as a micromanager, then we might look to justify his actions. If not, then we will leave room for things to happen without God's causing them, but with his allowing them for some greater good.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Hmm,,, I think sin introduced death and decay, and that had Adam and Eve not sinned, we would not have it. Though I suppose the case could be made that a "tree of life" was needed for something, so perhaps you are on to something. It's speculation though. I've always seen the effect of sin on nature as nature defending itself for survival, and assumed that such defenses were not necessary prior to that sin.

Mark Hewerdine
Mark Hewerdine

"We live in a broken world. The consequences of the fall of humanity is that the world has problems including natural disasters." Earthquakes happened before humans arrived on the scene - it's the nature of the physical universe. Volcanos erupted before we arrived. There were floods, species became extinct, global warming (not anthroprogenic though), ice ages... I agree the fall - however literally or metephorically we read Genesis - initiated sin and rebellion, caused a rupture in our relationship with God and led to drastically increased disharmony as humans related poorly to the physical world/the environment. But a "natural disaster" is disaster only when humans are in the way; when Mt Etna erupted the other day, it wasn't termed a disaster but a normal geological event; the earthquake in Japan was just as "normal" but was disastrous due to humans being on the scene and losing homes, lives and livelihoods. I don't want to minimise or trivialise the impact and pain caused - but I think there is faulty reasoning at work here. "Physical death is the ultimate evil." Physical death in the broadest sense has existed since matter came into being - second law of thermodynamics. Death is normal and a universe without decay and death would be unrecognisable. That's not to say it is pleasant or that human life is futile, or that physical death is the end for humans. "That in the end, after our physical Earthly lives have finished, God will wipe away all tears. There will be no more death, sorrow or crying. No pain." These statements derive from Revelation which places them in the context of a very physical "new heavens and new earth" - a material re-creation, not a "spiritual" disembodied heavenly realm. The end of the NT story is not "we die and go to heaven for ever"; it is that we are raised with new physical, if radically changed, bodies to dwell with God in a renewed physical creation - read the last couple of chapters of Revelation. No resurrection = half the NT story missing.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I hear you. We're probably way to quick to credit God for what looks like a blessing, and the devil for what looks like a curse.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

It's interesting really, because a lot of Christian will say this is a judgment from God. You are right though. We would not appreciate the climb up the mountains if they were as easy as climbing a flight of stairs. I mean really, how often do we celebrate making it to the top of the stairs? :) I'm thankful God doesn't fix everything too. Thanks for commenting!

Antwuan
Antwuan

no problem. I don\'t mind the discussion of various viewpoints. I rather encourage it. I don\'t have this thing all figured out at all, and love to entertain and converse. Iron sharpens iron! Thanks for the comment and keep em coming!

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I agree very strongly with your first point. Natural disasters, in my opinion, are often neutral events (as far as it goes for humans) most of the time. We could reference the plagues in Egypt, and the natural reactions depicted at Christ's death as exceptions to that statement, but they are exceptions. Thus, I think we make big mistakes saying things are from God or the devil. As for Death being the ultimate evil. I wasn't making the claim myself... but I was saying that for most people, physical death is the ultimate evil. I am going to being more into this in a book I am writing. But I might be inclined to disage that death is normal if you are saying that even pre-sin, there was death. And the reference to Rev. 20 is, for me, a statement speaking to SEVERAL things. Certainly not solely the physical or spiritual. I do believe in bodily resurrection in the last day, so I think we are on the same page here.