The media sarcastically asks, “Where was God when it happened?” For some this may be a rhetorical question, needing no answer. Their concept of God reveals how distant and remote they are from Him, that nothing concerning God impacts their lives.
How can we answer the concerns of evil and where is God in the midst of it? A review of history may help us understand where God is in time of tragedy. Begin in the Garden of Eden when our original parents did what was forbidden by God. He visited them and provided garments so they could clothe themselves.
When Israel lived as slaves in Egypt, God heard their cries and came down to be with them in their tragedy, walking with them through each experience and finally giving deliverance.
We can review American history and ask the same questions. Where was God in the American Civil War Conflict? Where was He during the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, McKinley and Kennedy and those of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King?
Where was God during the tragic storms of Katrina and Sandy and the numerous earthquakes and tsunamis of recent years? Did God not know about the Mount St. Helen’s volcano or many earthquakes where numerous lives were lost?
Was 9/11 or the recent shootings in Aurora, Co., Oregon or Connecticut unknown to God. Or to be even more personal, how can God permit so many people to lose their life savings by corrupt financial scandals and others to lose their homes and jobs resulting in months of unemployment and poverty?
What is the answer? It may be best to let the Word of God speak for itself and then draw our conclusions.
II Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.”
Isaiah 40:27, “Why do you say and complain, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
Isaiah 59:1, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”
Isaiah 30:18, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you, he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him.”
For some reason our generation feels impelled to inform God about what He should do. In a perfect world none of this evil would exist. But this is not a perfect world and God knows it.
The conversation between our first parents and God is very revealing. In Genesis 3:9-13 the conversation is recorded. God asks, “Where are you?” The answer is, “I heard you, I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God asks, “Who told you, you were naked?” No answer. God asks, “Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?” Answer: “The woman you put here with me gave it to me.” God asks the woman, “What is this you have done?” Answer: “The serpent deceived me.” The result is seen in verse 22, God said, “Man has become like us, knowing good from evil.”
God has laid out his plan for the world but through disobedience, evil entered the world. The answers our first parents gave God resemble how we respond to sin. Adam blames God for creating the woman, and then he blames Eve for what she did. Eve in turn blames the serpent for deceiving her so therefore no one takes responsibility for their actions. God then states we all know good from evil even in our fallen, sinful condition. God was present when sin entered the world and He made a plan of escape from it.
Another conversation we are privileged to listen in on is the first murder. In Genesis 4 Cain is angry with God for not accepting his sacrifice. God promises if Cain does what is right he will be accepted. God also warns him that “sin is crouching at his door” and he must master it. Cain refuses and vents his anger on his brother by murdering Abel. When God asks Cain, “Where is your brother” Cain responds, “I do not know” (first lie), am I my brother’s keeper?” God responds, “What have you done” (the same question God asked Cain’s mother in the Garden of Eden) “his blood cries out to me from the ground.”
Lee Harvey Oswald, a known communist, hated anyone opposed to his way of thinking. He also felt very insignificant and wanted to do something that would make him famous. He attempted the murder of Major General Ted Walker, an avowed anti-communist. Later, he would assassinate John F. Kennedy. The words God spoke to Cain, “sin is crouching at your door” may have changed history if they had been obeyed.
The same could be said of assassin, John Wilkes Booth who planned the killings of President Lincoln, Vice President Johnson, and Secretary of State Edwin Stanton. His hatred for the Lincoln administration was so intense, he wanted it decapitated. Booth could not hear the inner voice of God saying, “Sin is crouching at your door.”
In all evil God is present. He responds with Divine compassion. He invites the sinner to repentance and feels the pain of the suffering.
Jacob’s son, Joseph, is another example of evil visited upon one of God’s servants. He experienced evil from the hands of his jealous brothers who hated him. They left him in a well pit to die but later sold him as a slave. They then returned home with a bloodied piece of his garment deceiving their father telling him Joseph had been killed by some animal. Sometime later Joseph was accused of rape by the Pharaoh’s wife and spent time in prison for it. At the right time Joseph interpreted dreams for the Pharaoh and was placed in charge of the land. In so doing Joseph provided for his family when famine came to all the land. In later years Joseph told his brothers, “you intended to harm me with evil but God intended it for good, for what is being done is saving many lives.”
In recent months several Christian survivors of the Aurora, Co. Theater shooting have come forward expressing forgiveness for the shooter and desiring that he might experience personal forgiveness from Christ. They have expressed their experience of God’s presence in the theater that night and prayers offered for the safety of all who were there.
Jesus was moved by the effects of evil when his friend Lazarus died and Jesus wept. Evil will always be in our world in one form or another. A more important question is, “Where are we in time of evil?” How often we opine about how terrible the evil is. Many will ignore the events and soon forget their effects. Somehow denial is not the answer to evil. Families of perpetrators are often ostracized and shunned even when they are innocent bystanders of the evil done. Where are we when the families and the victims need comfort and assistance for the basic needs of life? Where are we when the perpetrator needs to experience the forgiving grace of God and his family needs to know they are not alone but part of a forgiving community?
Forgiveness is for everyone. No one is beyond the reaches of God’s grace. God has provided the church as an arm reaching out to those who are hurting.