Where Is God In The Midst of Tragedy?
God, where are you? How could you let this happen? Do you even care?
In the wake of unspeakable tragedy, some of these questions and thoughts might be haunting your heart and mind as you fight back tears of hurt, anger, and confusion. Perhaps, like me, you can’t even find the words to describe the emotions you’re feeling. You find yourself unable to wrap your mind around the vast horror and evil that has taken place. Lost in a foggy daze of confusion about what to think and feel. And how are we, as Christians who believe in a good and sovereign God, supposed to respond to such great tragedy. Is mourning enough? Is prayer enough? Is there any comfort to be found in the midst of such loss? Does God really have anything to say about this?
The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk asked some of these same questions several thousand years ago as unprecedented national destruction crept slowly but unavoidably upon the people of Israel. The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires posed great threat to God’s people. It is likely that for many years, Habakkuk witnessed the downward spiral of Israel’s morality and the corresponding threat of impending doom. Rebellion against God was at an all time high and evil plagued the nation like never before.
It is in the midst of this setting that Habakkuk (whose name means “Wrestler”) cried out to God in the same type of hurt, anger, and confusion that many of us are feeling today. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets in that he did not speak for God to Israel, but to God for Israel. Most of the book (only 3 chapters) consists of Habakkuk verbalizing and directing his pain, his confusion, and his questioning toward the God he believed had remained silent for too long.
In deep anguish, he cries out in Habakkuk 1:2-4, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”
Habakkuk found the words that many Christians today are seeking in order to express their hearts to God while wondering: How long will we cry out to God for help and none seems to come? How long will we be forced to witness and experience the horror and violence of mass shootings without any hope that things are getting better? God, why are you sitting idly around while children are being murdered? Things are only getting worse down here, God, and your law and your commands don’t seem to be helping. This isn’t fair, and the “justice” that you claim to be all about seems completely absent. Wickedness surrounds us and we have no hope anymore. We need you, so where are you? Where are you when we need you most?
The remainder of chapters 1-2 is basically a heated conversation that Habakkuk has with God as he pounds God with question after question about his apparent silence and absence in the midst of violence, evil, and corruption. Then, the book concludes with one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture. Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 displays faith and trust in God in its purest form as he forces himself to remember and believe the truth of God’s word – about who God really is and all that he has done for his people. He finishes his faithful prayer like this (Habakkuk 3:17-19):
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.
The confused, angry, hurting, and honest prophet finally brings himself, through reminder of who God is (his love, glory, goodness, and power) to a place of trust. A place that says, “God, even though everything around me is dying and crumbling, I will still trust you, I will still rejoice.”
The wrestling prophet’s struggle and conclusion provides us with a map for how to navigate through these modern times of seemingly unfathomable tragedy. Here are 4 brief but incredibly important things we ought to take to heart from this book.
1. He wrestled honestly, waited faithfully, and welcomed reverently.
The prophet turned to God in prayer despite all of his pain and confusion. He cried out openly and honestly to his God as he searched for understanding and instruction on how to cope with and respond to unspeakable tragedies of his day. Then, he waited faithfully for God to respond, and reverently welcomed God’s response even though it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. In the midst of the tragedies of our day, we must mourn, we must weep, and we must turn to God and wrestle with him honestly, listen for his response, and trust in his wisdom more than our own.
2. Sometimes God withholds answers, but reveals himself.
Habakkuk didn’t get the answers he was looking for. In fact, God confirmed his greatest fears, that it was going to get worse before it got better. But he also said, “If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Though more pain would come first, redemption and deliverance had been promised. We know now that it is only in Christ that such complete deliverance from death and sorrow is found. Oftentimes, rather than reveal all the answers and timelines and explanations to us, God simply reveals himself. He shows us who he is. He shows us how deeply he loves us. Knowing and believing who he is more fully is sometimes all that we need to find comfort in the midst of tragedy.
3. God doesn’t sit idly, he rules powerfully.
Multiple times Habakkuk accused God of distance, apathy, indifference, and idleness. God responded to the prophet’s confused and angry accusations by saying in 1:5, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” God isn’t idle, he is deeply involved in the goings on of the world and is constantly in the process of working out something amazing beyond our comprehension. Reminding ourselves that God is immanent and involved, not only in world events and national tragedies, but in personal pain and brokenness as well, ought to help transition us slowly from confusion to trust.
4. God is not distant in tragedy, he is particularly present.
During tragedy, God tends to seem particularly distant, even to the most faithful of believers. But God reminds us time and time again that he is not as distant as we might think. In fact, he is not distant at all. He is intricately involved in our lives and struggles and wants more than anything to relieve his people of all suffering and pain. To do this, he reveals himself to us. He revealed his Son, Jesus to us. He let his Son endure the greatest tragedy possible on the cross so that he could put an end to suffering once and for all. God is not far off, he is very near. The Bible clearly shows us that God is especially close at hand to the suffering.
So what are we supposed to do? Where is God in the midst of tragedy? How are Christians supposed to respond? Like Habakkuk did. Mourn, weep, lament, cry out honestly to God and direct all of our confusion and anger at him. Wait faithfully for God to speak to us in response through his word and his Son. Remind ourselves that in the midst of tragedy, God is particularly present and involved in relieving the suffering of his people and revealing himself to us as one worthy of our trust. And we know that he is trustworthy because he himself endured ultimate suffering on the cross so that one day we might be completely set free from tragedy altogether.
Lord, reveal yourself to us. Make yourself known to our world. Comfort the afflicted. Heal brokenness. And draw us deeper into the healing power of knowing you.