It has been deemed the most destructive storm, hitting the most densely populated areas of our country, in decades. The hurricane we have come to know as Sandy caused almost 150 people to lose their life in multiple states. Damage from the storm is estimated to be in the $20 billion dollar range. More than 8 million people were without power in 17 states.
So the question in all of this is where was God on this one?
Some would say that this proves that there isn’t a God, or at least a loving God. If there was, He would have intervened. So either He wouldn’t intervene, which would make Him a bad God or He couldn’t intervene, which would make Him a weak God.
Other people would say that this is just another example of God’s sovereignty. There was a Sandy because God wanted there to be a Sandy. So take that, New Jersey.
If you have spent any time reading through some of the stories on social media about hurricane Sandy, you will see that there are 4 main themes running through our culture’s psyche regarding Hurricane Sandy. They are:
- “God Bless”
- “Thank God”
- “God’s Wrath”
- “God Does Not Exist”
So who is right? The only way to find the answer to this question is to go back to the beginning of our existence.
God made us in order to love us. God tenderly crafted and designed, each of us as an individual, for the purpose of being related to, known, and deeply cherished. Along with this however, we were also given the freedom to make choices with our life, to live a fully conscious, self-determining beings. Even to the point of whether we were going to respond to the Creator’s love.
God did not choose to force Himself upon us against our will. Instead, He was determined to woo us, knowing that in so doing, we might very well turn away from His love. But this was the only way to have relationship be relationship. This is the dynamic at the heart of human existence. God could have made us love Him, but if He had, His relationship with us, and ours with Him, would have been meaningless. God wanted my relationship with Him, and with others, to be real. So when He created us, He had to take the risk of setting us free.
The first use of this freedom to love was made by the first humans, Adam and Eve. The tree in the middle of the garden stood as the great authenticator that the love between the first humans and God was real. They chose to eat the fruit. In the process, God the Lover, was spurned. That is when all hell broke loose.
The decision that Adam and Eve made to reject God’s leadership and an ongoing intimacy within a relationship with Him radically altered God’s original design for how the world would operate and how life would be lived. In other words, we live in a world that is not the way God intended it to be. When Satan told Eve if she ate of the fruit in the garden that she would not die, he lied. It was the day death and dying was born into the human race. They had chosen to sleep with another on the night of the honeymoon, and forever stained the relationship of loving intimacy that had been intended for eternity within God’s heart.
Langdon Gilkey, a World War II veteran, observes that few of us find it easy to believe that one-act of disobedience brought about a fall for the whole race that is now continued in us by inheritance. Yet reflecting on his experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, where prisoners representing a cross-section of humanity were forced to participate in a living laboratory of community, Gilkey noted that the theological idea of a pervasive warping of our wills is the most accurate description of the reality of life. “What the doctrine of sin has said about man’s present state,” Gilkey concluded, “seemed to fit the facts as I found them.”
The results of our collective choice to turn away from God run so deep that it isn’t just moral sin and evil we face, but natural evil as well. The whole world is sick. In the bible, we are told the following:
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
This is the very essence of why we have earthquakes and tidal waves, volcanoes and mudslides, wildfires and birth defects, famine and AIDS. And, yes, even hurricanes named Sandy.
Our world is “the Stained Planet,” writes Philip Yancey. The pain and suffering and heartache is a huge cosmic “scream…that something is wrong…that the entire human condition is out of whack.” These are far from original insights, much less contemporary ones. The medieval Christian philosopher Boethius aptly noted that “evil is not so much an infliction as much of a deep-set infection.”
This raises a very provocative point: God is not behind what is tragic in this world, much less responsible for it. People are behind and responsible for tragedy in this world.
Chesterton really put some great perspective on this idea when he once wrote to the editor in response to a request by the London Times for an essay on the topic, “What’s wrong with the World”:
In response to your article, ‘What’s wrong with the world”
G. K. Chesterton
Our hearts tend to shy away from God when we experience pain in our lives, and the pain of the world around us. We feel betrayed, yet we fail to see it as we who have done the betraying. There are some who will say, “Well, if God knew it was going to turn out, He should have never created us, because everything from cancer to concentration camps just isn’t worth it.” Yet when we blindly say such things, we betray how little we know about true love. Yes, God took a risk. Yes, the choice He gave each of us has resulted in pain and heartache and even tragedy. Yes, it would be tempting to say it would have been easier on everyone, including God, to never have had to endure it. But that’s not the way love works. Real love at least.
A good example of this would be anyone who has ever been a parent. As a parent, you love your child more than anyone else in this world. You would lay down your life for your child. No matter what that child does or how bad they ever treat you, there are a couple of thoughts that most surely never come to your mind. Never having that child. Never bringing that child into the world. Never going through life with that child. Even though your child can reject you, hurt you, turn from you and tear your heart out by hurting themselves as well as others. If someone were to say to you, “Why did you ever bother?” Your response would be, “You obviously have never been a parent.”
So why is this? Why would someone respond this way even though they get hurt? The answer is one 4 letter word. That word is LOVE. When one loves, there is risk. Risk of suffering, risk of loss, risk of rejection. But without this willingness to be wounded on the deepest of levels, there cannot be authentic relationship on the deepest of levels.
C.S. Lewis once observed:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements’ lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of you selfishness. But in the casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers … of love is Hell.”
So where is a parent in their potential pain of their child’s life? The pain that might come their way, and that might flow back to the parent because they chose to have that child? The same place God is with my pain, and where God is with your pain, and where God is with the pain of all the world. Right by your child’s side. Right by your side. Right by the side of all of us. Caring, weeping and longing to hold us in His arms.
Just as God is longing to hold us. He reaches out to each person , by name. The Bible says, “The Lord is close to those whose hearts are breaking. The good man does not escape all troubles-he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one.” (Psalm 34:18-20) Those who have opened up their heart to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of their pain have found this to be true.
Some might say, “But why doesn’t God just wipe out all the pain and suffering and evil?” Because in doing so, He would be wiping out all opportunity for authentic relationship with Him. Free choice would be meaningless. To go even further, it would be cruel for God to do so. If all evil were wiped out at midnight tonight, who among us would live to see the dawn. I know I wouldn’t. No, He endures the pain that comes with the love in order to redeem as many of us who are willing to be saved. But that’s not all. God has invested Himself in the process of healing the wounds that have come from our choice by entering into the suffering process with us in order to lift us out of it. God Himself in human form came to earth in the person of Jesus and suffered. he knows about pain. He knows about rejection. He knows about hunger, injustice and cruelty because He has experienced it already. God experienced it first hand.
Jesus on the cross was God entering into the reality of human suffering, experiencing it just like we do, in order to demonstrate that even when we used our free will to reject Him, His love never ended. But this was not suffering for its own sake, but suffering so we might use our free will and choose again. We can only hope that this time, the choice would be the right one.
Frederick Buechner put it this way: “Like a father saying about his sick child, ‘I’d do anything to make you well,’ God finally calls His own bluff and does it.” The ultimate deliverance, the most significant healing, the most strategic rescue, has come. Our greatest and most terrible affliction has been addressed. God has given us the greatest answer to our questions. He has given us Himself.
So the real question is whether we will allow the reality of pain and suffering of this wold to drive us away from God, or to God, where He can wrap His arms around us and walk us through its darkest night toward the promise of a brighter tomorrow. For God’s will be the final word, and it will not only be good, but best.
Popular group U2 has a song “40,” based on the 40th Psalm, that often has been played by the group at the end of their concerts following 9/11/2001. As the band toured around the world in support of their CD All Things That You Can’t Leave Behind, tens of thousands of people nightly could be heard singing the refrain, “How long (to sing this song).” Bono, who is the lead singer for U2, reflected: “How long … hunger? How long … hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort: to me too.”
This is precisely what does bring comfort and hope into the live of those here now and those yet to come. Bold living in light of our fallenness, and a frank embrace of the realities of a fallen world, is the mark of faith. It embraces the emotional anguish but never lets the emotions grow beyond the shadow of the character of God’s or the knowledge of the story at hand. The truth is that God loves passionately and lives with the pain of that love more than we could ever imagine. And that is the greater story. The greater story in which we need to place our own story.
Hurricanes and their effects don’t last. All natural disasters do not last. We regroup. We rebuild. We restart. The truth is that there is nothing on this earth that lasts. Everything and everyone will eventually end. Through all of this hurt and destruction and pain, there is only one thing that we can always count on. One thing that has always been here and always will be. That thing is God and all He wants to do is love us. The real question is will we love Him.