Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2005
My God, have you forsaken me?
Tsunami victims need the comfort of faith
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
Tsunami! I didn't even know how to spell the word let alone understand what it meant. My mind could not fathom the enormity of the catastrophe. The images aired on television were beyond comprehension. As the hours passed, more images were broadcast of the human tragedy unfolding. Mountains of corpses were unceremoniously buried in mass graves to avoid a second wave of death in the form of disease.
So many people have been left with nothing: their loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods are all gone.
Where was God?
I heard some North Americans questioning how God could allow such a terrible natural disaster to happen. They remind me of Job's wife. After losing their property and children, she advised him to "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9). Good thinking: At the deepest point of earthly and emotional destitution, add spiritual destitution to the calamity. Good advice: Slam the door to the ultimate comfort for the human soul.
Job's friends were not much better. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar came to "comfort" and condole with him. Yeah right! Their best comfort and condolence happened in the first seven days when they sat silent with Job in his sorrow and silence (Job 2:11-13).
Eventually the grief-striken Job spoke. He cursed the day he was born (not God) and longed for death to end his suffering. Eliphaz lovingly tormented Job by insisting his suffering was because of sin. Bildad and Zophar consoled Job by advising him to repent and seek God. Job eventually cried, "Miserable comforters are you all!" (Job 16:2). With friends like that who needs enemies.
The best I can say about Job's "friends" is at least they didn't offer to help Job kill himself. That's a 21st century solution to suffering.
Can those who dare challenge the sovereign goodness of God do better at consoling the victims of the tsunami? Can they console the inconsolable? No, of course not - talk is cheap. It's also expensive.
Grieving people do not need to hear "Curse God and die" (or whatever the 21st century rendition of it sounds like). The people of the tsunami know in their broken heart of hearts that they desperately need God. It is only people who think they are personally above waves of calamity who are ignorant of their own spiritual poverty and assume the luxury of challenging God's sovereignty.
It is God (and God alone) who can console the inconsolable soul. One may not understand tragedy but we must keep our doubts in check lest the inconsolable hear and turn from the last human consolation - Christ (see John14:1, 16, 18). If the best that observers of human calamity can offer is "How can God allow this?" or some version of "Curse God and die" then offer nothing. Those who are in the white-hot fire of grief do not need cynical observers' musings that heap coals on the flames of intense suffering.
The man who has lost his family, his home, his livelihood (and perhaps even his desire to live) already feels alone in the universe. His grief is too intense to mount a defense for his future or eternity - though Christ is his only hope to once again be united with his lost loved-ones. Throughout history, Christ has entered the flames of human suffering, crisis and calamity to abide with the afflicted and reveal the truth that our home is somewhere else.
I know this is true: Christ has abided with me throughout my own 20 years with progressive multiple sclerosis. Granted, my suffering pales in comparison to what people hurt by the tsunami are enduring, but perhaps I still have a valid perspective. My health has degenerated to a point where I live in an electric wheelchair and only one limb is left unaffected by disease (my left arm). But I am not completely invalid when it comes to matters of suffering, sorrow and loss. The invalid has something valid to offer; my experience counts for something.
Where are you God?
It is only when desperate prayers are met by cosmic silence and we cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" that we realize those words were cried before (Matthew 27:46). The Creator of the cosmos knew that terrible stony silence at the height of crisis too.
Christ bears witness that what seems like God's silence is not indifference to our pain. Au contraire! Like a wailing infant too famished and distraught to accept the bottle at its lips, intense anguish makes us too desperate for comfort to receive it. Often it is when all human and earthly resources seem to have vanished and we collapse with exhaustion, that eternal resources and perspectives appear - albeit dim and indistinct.
But if we still choose to believe and hope in a God who is there - despite physical evidence telling us otherwise - then the substance of real faith begins to take root. Strangely yet wonderfully, we are surprised by Christ's warm presence, like the sun appearing from behind passing storm clouds. He consoles our inconsolable soul, slowly and inexplicably transforming sorrow into eternal joy.
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