In my last post, I wrote, parenthetically, Where was God? when telling the story of a little boy named Brent Davidson who was brutally murdered. This frequently asked question gives voice to one of the most troubling conundrums of monotheism (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, whatever). It’s a dilemma called the “problem of evil” or the “problem of suffering.” For polytheism this is no problem. Either you didn’t appease the right god or you angered the wrong one. Monotheists have a hard time explaining how an all-powerful, benevolent God would allow innocent people to suffer. It’s a sticky problem to say the least (just ask Job), and it’s been sticking to me like Uncle Remus’s Tar Baby for a long time.
Where was God? There’s something healthy about saying what’s in your heart and mind, even when it’s not polite or pious. But it’s also good to be reminded, even rebuked, when what you say is wrong, perhaps even heretical. At the recommendation of my friend and former pastor, Dr. Tom Jackson, I’m reading The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus by Peter J. Gomes, pastor of Harvard University’s Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Morals. In spite of (or perhaps because of) his progressive theology, Gomes gives me a lot of food for thought. In fact, there’s even a section entitled “Where Was God?” dealing with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I found it particularly convicting. Gomes writes, “Nothing in the Bible promises us a stress-free existence in this world, and that to confuse worldly success with divine approbation is a dangerous, even idolatrous, enterprise.” (I thought I knew that.)
Where was God? Gomes takes issue with the question itself: “The implication was that that God was not on duty, for if God had been doing the right thing by God’s people, the disasters . . . simply would not have been permitted.” The question Where was God? commits the “fallacy of the declarative question.” That is, it’s not really a question at all. It’s an accusation: “God, you weren’t there!” Really?
On that awful day a dozen years ago, when an innocent little boy was tragically murdered, his throat cut from ear to ear the same way lambs were ritually sacrificed in biblical times, God was all around me—both metaphorically and in reality—yet I was too overwhelmed with anger and fear to see it.
Where was God? God was beside me, in the parents, mourning the loss of their beloved son. God was within me, comforting a distraught mother and father through me. God was before me, lying dead on a blood-soaked gurney. And God was above me, whispering in the deafening silence, I am here.