Seeing God’s Face
Job 1: 13-21; Luke 13:1-9
By Rev. Michael Ader
It’s been just over a week and we are still mourning the tragedy of the deaths and injuries of the shooting rampage in the movie theatre in Aurora Colorado. A twisted mind cut short the lives of twelve and possible more who are still in critical condition. Children, teenagers, men, women or servicemen. . .it made no difference to the shooter. It occupies the news and our minds when we think about what the world has lost with the death of these individuals?
We try in feeble ways to understand events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Columbine, Virginia Tec and raise fundamental questions. Why is there so much evil in the world? Why do mankind and nature overwhelm us so and destroy our lives? Why do innocent people suffer? The question always gets asked: Where was God? Where was God on 9/11 when 3000 died because of an evil radical ideology? Where was God when 280,000 perished in the Asian Tsunami? Where was God on Friday when 12 young lives gone and fifty-eight more were maimed?
These are universal questions. They have been asked by the wisest people among us, searching for an answer to suffering. So what do we do when people to works of evil, and God seems so far from us? Who’s in control here? Man or God?
These are universal questions–questions that are hard to answer in tragic times especially. Job has over 330 questions like these in its 42 chapters, more than any book in the bible. And why? It is because the Book of Job deals with a horrible tragedy. It is in tragedy we ask the most questions.
You remember Job’s story. He is a good man. Suddenly, without warning, his family and business are wiped out. Two rogue groups from Arabia and Mesopotamia conduct a raid taking away Job’s livestock and killing his servants. Then his family is lost in a freak accident when a mighty wind sweeps in from the desert, causing it to collapse, killing all who are in it.
In many ways the events of this past week echo his story. Families have had their destroyed by a violent wind. They have been hit and hit hard. It even happens close to home with the accidental death of Nicole Weed. All ask the same questions.
We do when we learn of a loss? We do what Job did. We mourn. He was silent when he received the first two reports that his business and livestock had been wiped out. Those can be replaced. But when he received the news that his children were lost, he got up and tore his robe. Then, he fell on his knees and wept: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return.” Everything that had meaning in his life was gone. As he came into this world so Job felt he was leaving it–naked.
Did God make or allow that mighty wind to blow through Theatre 9? No. Did God have some purpose in all this? No! Were any of those in the audience any more sinners than we are? NO!
We are fortunate that today we understand that there are explanations for natural disasters. Hurricanes arrive, not because God has a habit of punishing us, but because the prevailing winds, ocean currents and frontal zones combine in ways that make tropical storms more likely at this time of the year. The same is true of earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods. All of these are directed by the forces of nature. This is so in good times and bad and without respect to morality or condition of the people who happen to be living where disaster strikes.
The God we meet in the pages of the New Testament is not a vicious, violent, judgmental, force in the world. The God we meet is a very different one. John tells us that God is love, and that God’s perfect love of God casts out all fear.
While we can say that nature does its part to wreak havoc upon the earth the acts of mankind have done so much more. Luke 13 offers a chilling look at how Jesus addresses man’s inhumanity to man. Here we have two tragic events in the life of Israel during Jesus’ time. Each could be a headline event in Israel. One was an accidental collapse of a structure at a building site that killed 18 people. The other was a military operation that killed Galilean civilians who were blamelessly offering religious sacrifices at the Temple. Their deaths were ordered by Pontius Pilate in an event seems to be politically, not religiously motivated.
Remember that Israel at this time was occupied. The people lived in great tension with the Romans. A religious underground had actually emerged to fight for freedom. Pilate was despised and ruled in a ruthless manner. Some prior incident in the Temple angered him so he decided to send a political and religious message to the Jews by slaying a group of men who were more likely than not, innocent. Now the Galileans may have done something that set Pilate off, but these men quite likely had nothing to do with it. They were – convenient and in the wrong place at the right time.
Why are there these stories of senseless massacres in the Bible? They’re there because the disciples wanted to ask Jesus a very specific question. They wanted to know if these people died because they had sinned. Was this God’s judgment because of their immoral living?
Jesus gives a very simple answer: No. He then goes on to say, Repent, We are all sinners, equal before God. In other words, these things happen. Life is indiscriminate. One day you are here and the next you die in an accident or at the hands of some thug. So, repent.
God is not up there pulling the strings. God does not control the world in this way. There is chaos. There is evil. There is uncertainty. It would be dishonest to say that God makes everything all right in this world. The death of 12 and injuring of 58 innocent souls who were simply going to watch a film tells me how warped and depraved one man can be. As do the deaths of six million Jews in concentration camps and 300,000 Sudanese in death marches. We do have to admit that, even though this is God’s way, sometimes it seems that God has just isn’t paying attention.
So where is God when tragedies happen? Where was God last Friday night? God was not in the mind of James Holmes as he loaded his car with firearms. God did not cause these things to happen.
So, where was God? He was there in the efforts of those who tried to protect and even lose their lives trying to protect others in the theatre. He was there in the policemen who apprehended the killer. He was there in paramedic’s hands that triaged and saved lives on the scene. He was in the Emergency Room staff, nurses and behind the surgeon’s scalpel. He is there in the Aurora’s city government and the crisis counselors who will restore safety and mental health. He is there with the religious community who will maintain a prayer presence for all afflicted and rebuild a faith that has been shaken.
God is near the heart of all who, in the face of this tragedy, love their neighbors and who, in the midst of the violence, look to Him not for answers. They look to learn how in the end tragedies teach us that we are mortal and fully dependent upon Him. We should mourn, and we should turn to God and then reach out to one another. We should rebuild our own lives putting God once again at the center.
Jesus was trying to tell his disciples that life is fragile. At any moment walls can collapse upon us. Death is standing at the door.
What will you do right now with this life you have? Will you turn to God?
That’s the question Jesus asks of you.
As to the question: Where was God? Who is to blame?
Blame it on the rain.
Blame it on the wind.
Blame it on society.
Blame it on evil.
Blame it on a sick mind.
But don’t….ever blame it on God.
Where was God? God is here. Anguish is no stranger to God.
Let us never forget that Jesus suffered. He died. But he was raised.
And stands by our side always. Amen.