Let’s not mince words here. There were quite a few moments last week where a direct intervention by God would have been really timely:
- Israeli bombs falling on children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza, to say nothing of the homes being demolished and the civilians who are losing their lives in the current conflict.
- A civilian airliner was shot down over Ukraine.
- Children from Central America are fleeing gang violence and rape, seeking refuge across the U.S. border.
- Not to mention the communities in Africa struggling to find clean drinking water and viable farm land, human trafficking that’s destroying lives throughout Southeast Asia, and the civil war sweeping through Iraq.
Where is God right now?
When I wrote about this particular issue for my Christian Survival Guide, I had other tragedies in mind. However, we don’t have to look long before we find particular moments that punch us in the gut and leave us speechless. Perhaps one of these events from last week did that to you. I know they did that to me.
As I wrestled with these events and the place of God, I confess that I can’t line up certain ways of reading the Bible with what I’m observing. I can’t say that God is predestines every event according to a precise plan.
Also, throughout scripture, God routinely offers people choices, saying their actions will determine what kind of future they have.
I would rather have no God than a God who mysteriously orchestrates the death of children for a higher purpose.
I know that some people join me in that assessment, while others can handle that tension better (I only use the word tension to be charitable to their perspective). I also admit that my point of view doesn’t resolve every question or problem. Nevertheless, we are left with these pressing questions:
What should we make of a God who doesn’t always deliver us from evil?
Where is God when great acts of evil are unleashed in our world?
It’s not enough to say that Jesus bore evil on the cross. That’s a good starting point, but it comes up empty from my perspective. Yes, he didn’t fight back. Yes, he bore evil and defeated it by rising again. There is some comfort in that, but it doesn’t resolve the role of God right now. What is God actually doing about the problem of evil in our world?
I don’t think I can resolve this in a single blog post. And even my chapter on God and the problem of evil in A Christian Survival Guide is more of an overview, but let me offer a direction to explore.
What if part of the resolution to the problem of evil is Pentecost?
There is a trajectory throughout scripture of God desiring to dwell among his people, of renewing their hearts and minds, and even guiding them. “God among us” strikes me as the goal throughout the Old Testament prophets. When Jesus came, he wasn’t setting up a one-time, God among us event that ended with the cross and resurrection. He was leading us to something bigger: Pentecost.
The point on which everything in the ministry of Jesus turns for me is Pentecost. The cross and resurrection established God’s take on suffering—suffering alongside us, overcoming evil with resurrection. However, the power of God was released into our world through Pentecost.
Pentecost establishes God’s new way of interacting with our world—his Spirit working through us. Jesus reminded his followers that he would not leave them as orphans because the Spirit would come to dwell among us. That isn’t to say God’s presence in the world is limited to the Holy Spirit, but if we’re wondering “how” God interacts with our world, part of the answer may be found by looking at the indwelling Spirit.
Is God present in the world? Yes. In many ways and places.
However, one of God’s chosen ways of interacting with our world is incarnational and relational, guiding those who have received the Spirit and are willing to let him guide them. How is the Spirit leading us to interact with the pain and suffering in the world? How can God use us to bring redemption and restoration?
This isn’t the efficient, lightening strike resolution I’m personally longing for. I’d still like God to step in and shield the innocent from artillery and missiles. I can’t resolve the problem of a powerful God stepping back as these tragedies unfold. However, I don’t see God working behind the scenes to make these things happen.
I see God dwelling among us, mourning with those who mourn, and empowering those willing to change things.
If we want to find God in the midst of suffering, we should no doubt look to the cross, but don’t stop there. Look at Pentecost. God is bearing our pain alongside us. God is here to help us bring peace and redemption.
Pentecost means that God may well be right here alongside us, encouraging us to ask all of the same tough questions and to never settle for a trite answer.