Does God really care about what is going on in our world? It's an age-old question that surfaces every time we are stricken with a personal or national tragedy. A lot of people affected by Hurricane’s, Harvey, Irma and Maria are probably asking themselves that question right now.
In the midst of such tragedies, it's important to understand that God's care is not predicated on what we think he should do in His own created world. God is sovereign; and this is not a concept easily embraced by those who want to be in charge and in control of their own lives and destiny.
The tragedy and suffering from wars can be blamed on human evil. The loss of so many lives at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Boston Marathon bombing, or the innocent slaughter of many in a San Bernardino nursing home can be blamed on a myriad of bad ideologies and social ills.
Hurricanes and other natural disasters, absolve anyone else to blame. We classify these disasters as “acts of God”. Agnostics have a field day after such cataclysmic events. When a tsunami killed 280,000 in Asia the day after Christmas, 2004, Slate magazine ran an article titled “Send a Message to God: He has gone too far this time.” In it, Heather MacDonald wrote:
It’s time to boycott God: God knows that he can sit passively by while human life is wantonly mowed down, and the next day, churches, synagogues, and mosques will be filled with believers thanking him for allowing the survivors to survive. The faithful will ask him to heal the wounded, while ignoring his failure to prevent the disaster in the first place. . . . Where is God’s incentive to behave? He gets credit for the good things and no blame for the bad.
There is an irony to the protestations and arguments of skeptics. Their own arguments would never be raised if their own consciences had not in some profound way been shaped by the moral universe of a Christian culture.
The most vociferous voices are quick to pounce on a mass tragedy as if it puts a final nail in the coffin of the Christian faith. After all, they reason, “How could a good God possibly allow such a calamity? Though the question is unavoidable, and a profound mystery, it applies only in the context of the Christian faith. Philip Yancey put it this way, “I have yet to hear critics offer a response consistent with their own atheism or agnosticism? Why should they even be shocked and upset? After all, what else were they expecting from an impersonal universe of random indifference”?
Of all the arguments presented by classical and recent atheists, none are new or surprising. The shocking truth is, the Bible itself speaks openly of many individuals who wrestled with their own faith and questions of "why". It never once tries to hide or silence their anguishing queries.
Consider the following:
Gideon: “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (Judges 6:13)”?
Job: “Though I cry, ‘Violence’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice (Job 19:7).”
Psalms: “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself (Ps. 44:23)!”
Ecclesiastes: “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless (Ecc. 1:2)!”
Isaiah: “Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself (Is. 45:15).”
Jeremiah: “Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save (Jer. 14:9)?”
Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Mk. 15:34)?”
How does the Bible answer such soul-searching inquiries? Usually with silence. Of all the individuals in the Bible, apart from Christ who suffered in silence, Job stands above all the rest. When faced with his own incalculable suffering, his wife said to him, " Why don't you just curse God and die"? His stated his answer to her in a simple and resigned manner, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So, in all this, Job said nothing wrong” (Job 2:10).
Yet, Job’s laments were many as he became frustrated with God over his lack of silence. Anne Lamott had this to say about those who voice these types of laments:
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don't like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you've ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
Job was one of those real people we could sit down with and share a meal. His laments were palpable. His uprightness and integrity unquestionable. Job probably deserved to suffer the least and yet suffered the most. His musings reflect deep disappointment and disillusionment with God and with life. We’ve all been there at some point. Listen and feel his anguish: “I long for the years gone by when God took care of me, when he lit up the way before me and I walked safely through the darkness” (Job 29:2-3). Do you hear and feel his sense of abandonment and aloneness? And again, in Job 29:13, “I thought, ‘Surely, I will die surrounded by my family after a long, good life”. Do you hear the angst over unfulfilled longings and wishes? Who wouldn’t want a good long life surrounded by their family?
When Job finally exhausted himself with his "why" questions, he finally got his long-awaited audience with God. Oddly, though, Job’s hopes of getting his questions answered were soon dashed as God responded with his longest recorded speech in the Bible. Instead, God chose to riddle him with numerous questions that Job could not answer. In fact, God never did get around to addressing any of Job’s "why" questions. He essentially asked Job, “Who do you think you are anyway–questioning me, your Creator?”
God didn’t need to answer Job. Instead, he humbled Job by causing him to see his place in all of creation. In other words, God left Job speechless! (See Job’s response to God in Job 40:1-4; 42:1-6). God doesn’t reveal his grand design to any of us beyond what the Bible has already revealed. He doesn’t have to. Instead, he reveals himself to the earnest seeker, overwhelms us with his grandeur, dumbfounds us with his omnipotence and humbles us in our finiteness.
In a delightful irony, however, God announces that only through Job’s advocacy will he listen to the friends who had badgered Job with their accusations and absurd theology. His friends had begun well, sitting with Job in silence for seven days, but their problems began when they opened their mouths.
I have sat beside many individuals who have experienced a tragic loss, and I confess, I too was at loss for words to explain their questions of "why". It would trouble me that I had nothing I could say that would make a difference. Being with them was all I could do and yet it was everything I could do. It was so heartening to hear of the many Christian communities in the United States that were putting Christ’s love into practice by being with and helping the victims of the recent hurricanes. I don’t think any of us can ever understand the depth of God’s love until we have occasion to both demonstrate it and receive it. God bless all those who came to their aid.
We won’t be the first or the last to wonder why the Bible gives no systematic explanation for the problem of suffering. The biblical authors did not sit around scratching their heads over the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” They viewed this world as enemy territory, a spoiled planet ruled by the father of lies and the dispenser of woe. What else should we expect from Satan? When the prince of this world (see: Eph. 2:2) offered a tempting short-cut solution to earth’s problems, Jesus did not scoff at his presumption of authority; he simply chose against it, in favor of a slower, costlier, yet permanent solution (see Mt. 4:1-11).
Our world desperately needs hope, but not a worldly “hope”–one that Satan and his minions offered to Christ and wants to offer us. That hope is empty and superficial and terribly misguided. Paul spoke about a hope we all can have (see I Th. 4:13-14). He said we don’t “have to grieve like the rest of the world who has no hope”. Instead, by placing our trust in Christ we can have his abiding presence through all of life’s circumstances and the hope of living with him for all eternity.
We are always free to reject the way God runs this world, even to the point of rejecting his offer of salvation he gives us through his own Son. The Christian faith is not something for the good times only. It can, and will be, sorely tested and stretched, especially in times of suffering and tragedy. But it seems, that faith’s inestimable worth only gets appreciated when we are placed in the crucible of trial and testing.
If there is a hope that makes sense in this world, it is to place our trust in Jesus Christ who will one day remove us from this world and all its suffering. Even Job, in the midst of his own terrible suffering, saw an undeniable and promising hope of the resurrection when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).
 Yancey, Philip. The Question That Never Goes Away (Kindle Locations 267-268). Creative Trust Digital. Kindle Edition.
 Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/733422-my-belief-is-that-when-you-re-telling-the-truth-you-re