I read a twitter from some dude who slammed Texans with this retort: “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this?” That seems like sort of a na-na, na-na, boo–boo kind of thing to say to people who are already deeply hurting. Well, while you’re at it twitter boy, “Did God cause the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Bubonic Plague, the Suffrage of Women, The Depression, the POW camps? Where was He in the civil rights crisis, the Oklahoma tornadoes, or the Oklahoma City bombing? The presence of God is not manifested by the absence of suffering. NO more than our faith is dependent upon an easy life. Indeed, just the opposite.
Time for a bible lesson. If you insist on demanding a response from “Christians,” regarding God’s part in causing something like Hurricane Harvey, well then you deserve a scriptural answer. According to Hebrews 12:1, faith is defined as “Assurance about what we do not see…..By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” In other words, our faith is not validated by what we know, rather, it is demonstrated and embedded in our souls based on what we don’t fully know and understand. That may sound reckless to an unbeliever. However, when your own personal experience testifies to the presence and involvement of your Creator in ways you can catalogue, then you realize and know that the promise of Jesus is not “I will be with you only in the absence of pain,” but rather, “I will be with you always…” (Matthew 28:20). Suddenly, the decision to profess a faith-based on the “assurance of what we do not see,” doesn’t seem so crazy after all. Suddenly the belief that-“God is with us in Hurricane Harvey even though He didn’t stop it from coming,”-is an easier concept to grasp. And in the process, it moves us forward, not backward. Here, I will defer to the answer given by three Jewish teenagers to their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar in 585 BC: “ If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)
Why oh why is there so much suffering in this world? This naturally troubles Jesus followers, how much more so can we expect that it will challenge those who don’t follow Jesus, like our Twitter friend for instance? This is a very difficult, age-old question, albeit with a very simple answer: This isn’t heaven people. It is the same earth we read about in Genesis 3 when God told man “because of this, (this=Man’s first sin) you shall……” and God went on to name a litany of trials that would now befall man and woman, which we could sum up here in one word: “suffer.” “Because of this, you shall suffer.” In that singular Genesis 3 moment we were all cast into a world of sickness and despair, one that required grace upon grace in order to be saved from that suffering. And if you care to read scripture even more, the bible is chock full of stories about the suffering of man, God’s beloved people no less, and God’s role and/or HIs responses to that suffering. So natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t new to this earth and neither is suffering. Furthermore they’re certainly not new to God.
I apologize to those of you who wanted an answer that was something much more apocalyptic in nature or for those of you who wished I would’ve just conceded and denounced God all together. But for those of you in that first camp, suffering has been aplenty every century that this earth has existed. We have already pointed that out. For those of you in that second camp, living life without God is not an option for me. While I am not certain that he is the author of all manner of suffering, (there are too many boneheads out there making poor choices to blame God for everything,) I can undoubtedly assure you, with the greatest of certainty, that he is the author of all good things. “ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
1 Peter 3:15 says …”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I believe the Genesis 3 story outlined here can truly be the beginning of the answer we give to anyone who asks us as Christians “Where was God in Harvey, or when your husband left you, or when your loved one died, or when you lost your child? Where was God when you lost your job, or when you were betrayed by your business partner?”
But neither is that the end of the story.
And it’s only part of the answer.
God’s presence and action is palpable in His people. For centuries, Jesus followers have been known for their uncanny way of unleashing God’s strength and His provision upon people as they themselves soak up God’s strength and provision. This is so very evident in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God pours into us, and we pour out. This very truth has yet again been played out right before our eyes in Houston. As I type this, churches all over the Houston metropolitan area have literally deployed to every part of the city, boots on, and sleeves rolled up, knee-deep in flood water, loving on victims while water vacuuming their floors and tearing out drywall. We can’t spend too much time demanding answers from God about Hurricane Harvey. And why would we anyway? It has happened. And as long as we are on this Genesis 3 earth there will be suffering. The rest of the story is up to us. Will we “unleash” the love of God into our own homes, and into our communities with unrelenting fervor? Hopefully, we will, and in so doing, we can move people from a place of seeing God only as their accuser to a place of seeing God as their provider.