E-pistle January 14

Tucson: Where Was God?

Earlier this week I received an email from a friend. It was short, to the point and profoundly important. “I wonder how many other Christians struggle as I do when tragic events happen and ask, “Where Was God in all this?” and “Where Is God in all this?”

The questions are not new. That they are not new adds to their depth. Generation after generation men and women of faith have asked them over and over again. Answers have been offered, and some of them are very good answers. But maybe we find rest not when we have a satisfying answer but when have peace in living with the questions.

That said, as I have pondered again my friend’s questions, God spoke to me this time not through the philosopher or the theologian, both of whom have important and wise things to say and who must be heard, but through the sometimes agonizing reflections of a man after God’s own heart, a man who knew betrayal of friends, the death of his own children, and sin’s strong grip on his own life. A man who found full joy in the presence of God.

I am finding the selection of readings from the Daily Office of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to be immensely helpful in my devotional life. Each selection in the two year cycle contains readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the remainder of the New Testament.  We are usually given three Psalms a day and so read through the entire Psalter five or six times a year.

In today’s selection from the Psalms, we find ourselves at 16, 17, and 22, each a Psalm of David, the man after God’s own heart. They are Psalms of lament and supplication, the prayers of one who lives in a world like ours.

What might or even should be the attitude toward God of those who love or loved the victims of the massacre in Tucson last Saturday? God does not require sentimentalism or hollow clichés of us. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (22:1) Of course, these are the words quoted by Jesus from the cross, but they were not given for his use alone.  They are first David’s words and they may be ours. We may bring our sense of being forsaken by God to God.

God is not put off by our anguish. “…my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (see 22:12-15)  In our world there are those who do us violence, whose hearts are closed to pity. (see 17:8-12)

But where was and is God? He was in Tucson last Saturday and he is not far from those who mourn today, indeed, he stands at their right hand. (see 22:11 and 16:8)

How might we pray for them? That God might wondrously show them his steadfast love, “O Savior those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand…who hide in the shadow of your wings.”

Yes, God was in Tucson last Saturday. The God whose Beloved Son wept over the sinful ways of Jerusalem must surely weep over the violence and insanity of our cities and our nation and our time. And yes, we trust in a sovereign God in whose might is the power to change hearts, alter outcomes, cause deadly bullets to fly astray.  We simply do not and cannot know how he was powerfully present in Tucson and why what outcomes came as they did. Our hearts are broken and perhaps our trust is shaken. Again.

God’s goodness cannot be measured by the headlines of the day, as much as they must be read. God’s goodness cannot be measured by the doctor’s diagnosis or the numbers on a W-2. God’s goodness is measured by his faithful presence and his unshakeable and sure purpose to make all things new. In this hope we are saved.

Each of the Psalms ends in a faithful resolution that brings peace more than answers:

“You make know to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; and in your right hand are pleasures evermore.” (16:11)

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (17:15)

“Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” (22:30-31)

My friend asks important questions, and I do not know if I have begun to answer them.  I do know that to the extent that I have experienced some small portion of  life as  David describes it in the Psalms, I have found his same God to be faithful, his love to be steadfast, his joy full.