Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
Last night, twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof walked into a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and opened fire, killing nine persons, including pastor and South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, Goose Creek High School track coach Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and eighty-seven-year-old Susie Jackson.
One post I saw on Facebook expressed understandable grief by paraphrasing a universal question that we all eventually ask, whether or not we would admit it. The writer said, “… where was God when he took the people who never caused grief or harm? All they had was love and acceptance.”
The question is important, because it represents the honest and understandable frustration of so many of us when ambushed by tragedy, and we feel helpless to resist it. Indeed, where is God when children get cancer, when villagers get beheaded, when waves rush over cities and countries, turning everything upside down from what we thought it would always be, and in an instant, or a generation, the Earth itself seems to move out from under us? Or, to bring it back to Charleston, did God go AWOL in the Holy City yesterday evening? Where is our Iron Man? Where is our Avenger?
First, let us put our grief in perspective. God was the Creator, and, we would hope, the Father of each of these victims last night. He has already grieved much more over their deaths than we ever will. But He also celebrates in victory His provision, and has justice for the wicked who reject it.
God didn’t take those worshippers. We did. Man demanded control of the world long ago, and God has obliged us for a time. It’s the oldest story in the Book.
So, if we want to point fingers — and we certainly do — this is in our lap. We have trusted the Adversary —- who prowls like a lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and like a thief, comes to steal, and kill, and destroy — instead of the Creator, Who gives life (John 10:10). Events like this one are the results of our decision, not God’s. His decision was to let us decide. We chose… poorly.
Sin brings death (Romans 3:23). The only person who has ever been all love was Jesus Christ. He alone is worthy of praise. What good the victims had in them was not of themselves, but the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ in them.
To be sure, we have all caused grief and harm. Let us not delude ourselves. That is why we all need Jesus. Any mature Christians in that Bible study would have been the first to admit this. But God loves us all. So why does He let the world continue in this sad state?
2 Peter 3:9 — “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
So, where is God? God is right here, waiting until the moment when the world sees clearly that without His direct and immediate intervention, there would be none of us left to cry out to, or even oppose, Him.
Matthew 24:21-22 — “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
As of yet, God knocks at the door — indeed, Creation shouts His majesty — and we, collectively, respond to Him like He’s a telemarketer calling at dinnertime. When He returns, though, we will know Who has stopped short our self-inflicted destruction, and we all, His or not, will acknowledge Him for Who He is.
Isaiah 45:23-25 — “‘I have sworn by Myself,
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
And will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’
Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him will be put to shame.
‘In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
Will be justified and will glory.’”
So grieve, for even when Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus, He first grieved the loss of His friend:
John 11:32-36 — “Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!”
But as your grief turns to anger, don’t blame God. He grieves with you, and is not remiss. Nothing escapes His sight, or His reach, or exhausts His love. Again, He is willing to suffer the fullness of man’s depravity that He might not lose even one who would accept His offer of grace through Jesus Christ. But when that moment comes, He will perfectly reconcile our thirst for justice with our need for mercy, “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” — Revelation 21:4