Summary: God is worthy of your toughest questions.
On July 28 this year, I included in the prayers one item of thanksgiving and one of intercession. The thanksgiving was related to what the media were calling “The Miracle at Quecreek.” You may recall nine miners were rescued after being trapped for three days 75 metres underground in a water-filled shaft. We were happy to join our voices of thanksgiving to those of their families and friends.
The intercession was related to the horrifying accident in the Ukraine when a jet, taking part in an air show crashed into the crowd killing more than 80. And again it was the right thing to do, to join other families and friends in prayer that God would comfort those left grieving this terrible loss.
Who should take credit for these events? Who bears responsibility? The rescue of the miners was called a miracle, suggesting that in the minds of some, God deserved some of the credit for these men surviving in 13° Celsius water. But if we’re willing to say that God heard the prayers offered for these men what do we suggest God was up to when the maneuver of that jet was off just enough to cause the crash. Could not God have made the necessary adjustment? Were the miners somehow more deserving of God’s care than the air show spectators? Where is God when disaster strikes.
Philip Yancey, as a brash 28-year-old wrote Where is God when it hurts in 1977. He revised the book in 1990, adding he says about 100 pages and the perspective of middle age. The phone started ringing at his house on September 11, 2001. He got calls from the media in the United States and also from England, Holland and Australia. He had written about pain. Did he have anything to say about this tragedy? He admits he declined to comment. Anything he could think of sounded like a cliché.
But the next day Yancey had an idea and made a proposal to Zondervan, his publisher. On Thursday they decided they would put their full resources into getting the book Where is God into as many hands as possible, printing a one-time edition with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross. By Friday they had sold 750,000 copies. In other words they sold more in 24 hours than had previously sold in 24 years. Wal-Mart ordered 125,ooo. Retailers, too, felt helpless and grabbed at a chance to give some answers to the questions their customers were asking.
We are still asking the question, where is God when it hurts? Where is God when disaster strikes? On 9-11-01 there was no escaping these questions. I think our world of instant communications gives us nowhere to hide. The first jet hitting the World Trade Centre guaranteed cameras would be focused on the other tower. Will we ever forget the sight of the impact of that second jet? When four Canadian soldiers were killed by “friendly fire” (surely the saddest oxymoron to be contributed to our language by the military), the world knew about it within hours. But there are families who knew that horror during World War II. Less advanced communications kept those stories hidden from most until written about years later.
The question of pain, the question of tragedy, the question of God’s involvement in disaster is as old as humanity. The book of Job, a book mostly of searching questions, is the oldest literature of the Bible. The story is timeless, filled with questions we have always been asking. I want to explore today and the next three Sundays some answers to tough questions. I have no illusions that I will answer every hard question. But I believe it is a faithful thing to ask the questions and struggle to find answers.
Asking the questions is not wrong. Many of us, particularly of my generation and older were given the impression God was something of a light weight when it came to questions. Either he resented them, or asking a question might expose the one thing God could not do—give a satisfactory answer.
The God that I believe in is worthy of your our toughest questions. I believe it is an act of faith to ask questions. The story is told of W. H. Auden, who in the 1930’s believed there was no such thing as God or absolute truth. But in the aftermath of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Auden saw a documentary report. He then knew two things. One was that Hitler was an evil human being. And the second was that he needed to know the source of absolute truth if he was going to judge that anyone or anything was evil. Auden became a seeker after an unconditional absolute and came to faith.
A person only has questions if they believe there is someone to question. A God who can’t match wits with Bill Norman isn’t much of a god. (I’m reminded of the fellow who said he would take me on in a battle of wits except it would be unfair, like dueling with someone unarmed.) No, God is well able to deal with our questions. To ask the tough questions of God is not a sign of doubt, but of faith. It shows we believe there is one who can help.