Where Is God In Tacloban?
Jesus loves me this I know – unless I’m May May Gula. Everything in my world including my husband and children have been swept away by Typhoon Haiyan.
Jesus loves me this I know – unless I’m Emani Moss. My father and step-mother starved me to death and burned my body in a trash can.
Jesus loves me this I know – unless I’m Mark Sweatman. My mother and father have disowned me because I’m gay.
I believe in a God that is omnipotent and loving, a God who wants the best for us all. I believe in a God who has saved us ALL not because of our deeds or our perfection or our worthiness, but because of his grace. I believe in a God that loves us so much he became a man called Jesus and died in order to redeem us. I believe by becoming fully human, God experienced human suffering, pain and grief and therefore understands OUR experiences of suffering, pain and grief.
So what then do I do with my belief in THAT loving, merciful, knowing God, when tragedy and evil strike? If God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, why can’t he keep those things from happening? If Jesus loves us all so much, why does he allow suffering, cruelty, and death? Why would God abandon us?
I don’t know.
Theodicy. It’s probably the world’s oldest theological question. It’s a question that has taken me from believer to atheist to agnostic to believer over and over again. I am not a person of great faith. I wrestle with God more than I praise God. I enjoy thinking about theology more than I enjoy worshiping. As I told my friend Amy, I’m religious, but not spiritual.
But I think God’s OK with that. I think a healthy dose of thoughtfulness, doubt and cynicism is what keeps me from buying into cheap and easy answers about God and loss. Tell that bereft woman in Tacloban that God “hasn’t given her more than she can handle.” How could it be “God’s will” that a innocent little girl’s own parents have starved and killed her? Explain to broken-hearted Mark “God’s plan” for his beloved parents to excise him from their lives.
I wonder if maybe part of the natural order of everything is that for positive to exist, there must be a corresponding negative. Perhaps good can’t exist without evil. See matter and antimatter, dark and light, yin and yang. (This would also ensure that the Evil Spock universe really exists!)
And even if we can’t understand the “why” of evil; suffering and tragedy give us the opportunity to use the “God” part of ourselves to be present for those in pain. I like a concept I first encountered in Rob Bell’s, “Love Wins,” the idea that maybe heaven isn’t some place up in the sky where we go after we die. Maybe our commission is to make the places we are the kingdom of God.
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:8-9)
We make that kingdom of God here and now on Earth by following Jesus’ new commandment:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27)
We make that kingdom of God here and now on Earth by lifting up the downtrodden, comforting the grieving, feeding the hungry, seeing the invisible and embracing the rejected. By working to establish the kingdom of God here and now we are allowing the image of God that dwells inside us to break through the cracks of our humanity and shine a light that cuts through the darkness of the world.
I don’t know why God allows or can’t prevent evil and brokenness and tragedy. I suppose a God I could explain wouldn’t be much of a God. But that question of theodicy still chafes like sand in a wet swimsuit. Thankfully, I read something I could at least sit comfortably with in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s, “Pastrix” when she discusses fighting with the same questions while doing an internship as a hospital chaplain.
“God is not distant at the cross and God is not distant in the grief of the newly motherless at the hospital; but instead, God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us. There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus – Emmanuel- which means ‘God with us.’ We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.” p.86
Jesus loves us and he is with us. This I know.