Sunday, January 9, 2005

Where is God?

I have been preparing for a series of talks that I am to give to a group of Christian ministers of various denominations later this month on the subject of "finding God where you are". When I agreed to the task I felt that I it would be a simple matter, then the magnitude of this Asian dissaster and the incessant chanting of the crowd "Where is God?" has made it clear that my task will be more difficult...or will it?

It struck me this morning that if I believed in the God of the philosophers as Abraham Joshua Heschel used to term the god that most people argue with than this would indeed be the case. But the God of the Scriptures, "the God of Old" as one modern Jewish author has termed God is not a distant God and as a Christian that is the God that I worship this Sunday.

Start with the cross. Then think God and you'll see that all your distant god arguments start to dwindle. The Nancy Grifth song "From a Distance"..."God is watching us from a distance" while beautiful is actually heretical. Try this is on for size...

Philip says to Jesus: "Show us the Father."

Jesus tells Philip:"He who sees me (Jesus) has seen the Father."

Elie Wiesel told a story that I quote in my Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Fulton Sheen book about a young boy being hung on the gallows between two older men in the concentration camp. The old men shout political slogans as they quickly die. The young innocent lingers on and says nothing. The inmates of the camp are forced to watch the whole ordeal as they march back and forth in front of the gallows. Someone in the crowd cries out, "Where is God now?" Wiesel tells of watching the young childs eyes as he slowly dies. "Where is God now?" the person screams again. Wiesel says something that Christians immediately recognize differently than the meaning that Wiesel has in saying them: "There he is hanging on that gallows." I think that for Wiesel that in the death of this child any hope that God existed was extinguished. But for the Christian there is an immediate recognition of the child as a Christ figure who like the early followers of Jesus the Son of God all met cruel deaths that were similar to the death of their Lord. In the young man God was being hung.

Chistianity in its good moments does not keep God at a distance. It recognizes God has come to dwell with us. It also remembers that the Lord said that the Kingdom suffers violence so it is not surprised when the innocent suffer--in fact I think it might be fair to say that we should be more surprised when we don't suffer.

In the end Jesus told his disciples that there would be two groups of people that all of humanity would be divided into the sheep and the goats. The difference between the two groups would be that one recognized God in the face of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, the naked, the imprisoned, the infirmed while the other group did not. The surprise of the other group is marked no doubt by their search for God in the distance, "When did we see you Lord?"

It is good that in response to this disaster that so many are responding with heartfelt generousity to help those who have suffered. In doing so we are helping God who is not off in the distance plotting the next disaster but clings to the wood of the cross as the storm seeks to destroy him yet again.


  1. I heard this quote at a funeral for a college student, and I have never forgotten it:

    "the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, insisted, reaffirming his faith after the death of his son in an accident, 'God's was the first heart to break' . . .

  2. I've read so many articles or heard ideas recently about the "Where was God" or how could a good God allow this disaster to happen, using it even for justification for previous neglects of God. But the best answer I thought came in the idea of God's loving presence in those who did not question but immediately went into caring action. That idea doesn't occur to those who felt their lives were going quite well, thank you very much, and did not need this horrible interruption to their own wills. Yet, in asking these types also to demonstrate a kind of love - the God within them they've chosen not to recognize until given a rather strong opportunity - their new experience of choosing to give of themselves was an act of mercy from God within a catastrophe. God may be only missing in situations because too many people are asking where He is when God is asking THEM to show His constant Presence in solidarity with others. When all the usual walls keeping people from truly sharing; denominational walls, cultural walls, materialistic walls, political walls, familial walls, etc., get shattered, the independent will either has to reach out to another or call on the better power, and here we may see that in our weakness is His strength finally felt. And where but in the suffering martyrs to the cause do we see the clearest image of God as He presented Himself to us in His very own humanity. It appears more like God "finding us where we are" rather than us finding Him.

  3. I think some who ask "Where was God?" upon hearing that He was "right there", whether on the gallows or on the beach, then respond with, "So what?" Their thinking, and indeed my fear, is that His presence made just as much difference to the situation as His absence; in other words, none at all.

    God is there? So what. It makes no difference one way or the other. The child on the gallows still dies.

    I don't want to disparage anyone's faith here. But I've heard "God was there" for a very long time, and I'd really like to know why that should be regarded as anything but incidental.

  4. But I've heard "God was there" for a very long time, and I'd really like to know why that should be regarded as anything but incidental.Not to worry about disparaging anyone's faith with such comments. I doubt it was just "incidental" to Jewish families or chldren who were taken in hiding by those who risked their lives for them; to the family man saved by Maximilian Kolbe; or to those struggling to hope when they witnessed priests giving their lives for their witness. It goes on and on, in the one on one personal basis, in these various events of history posed to rid the world of all dependency on God. It certainly isn't His fault that there aren't more Kolbes since He's sent His Mother and prophets time and again to prepare His children, warning them that without daily prayer and connection to Him NOW, they would fail when their testing came. And His warnings continue now, to not get attached to this world for it comes to an end for each, one way or another. When He comes, it's as He always foretold - with a cross - for the "privilege" of our participating in His Divine Life. That's not the God of current times, the one made in the image of of course He's not recognized. Yet, even without most being able to continue their hopes in such catastrophes of life, He still brings good out of evil - always through some small remnant - so the mighty are always defeated by the weak. Now, how can that happen logically if He is only incidental to such happenings? Must be something like Mercy and Grace and a greater plan for our good than we can see with our limited myopic vision.

  5. It makes a big difference whether you believe or don't. First if you are in the situation of it costing your life you know at that moment that you have placed your trust in a God who will rescue you from eternal death. If you are a survivor grieving the loss of a loved one you have the hope of being reunited with that loved one in the future.

    The difference is that without God there is no hope and there is no after life!

  6. I am particularly impressed with Cardinal Pell's contribution in the Sydney newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph. It can be found at

    John Lilburne