On October 23, 1989 a Pasadena, Texas chemical plant exploded, killing or injuring several workers and destroying property around the area.
That evening the press interviewed Mrs. José Gonzales, whose husband was critically injured and in intensive care. “We’ve always trusted in God,” she said, “and He never let us down before.” The next day José Gonzales died.
Mrs. Gonzales spoke for millions of Christians when she affirmed her faith in God. And like most of us, she struggled to hold on to that reality when God did not respond in the way she asked. Few Christians lack an intellectual sense of God’s power and presence. The difficulty comes when we try to transfer that knowledge into practical and emotional reality during times of crisis. We all know God is in His heaven controlling the world as He wills. But still we ask, where is God when I need Him?
Where is God During Danger?
On October 17 I had lunch in the Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz, California. Four hours later, it was leveled; six persons died and over 600 were injured, in Santa Cruz County as the great World Series earthquake hit San Francisco and dozens of miles around. Who can forget the televised pictures of collapsed Highway I-880 or the dropping of a 50-foot long panel on the Bay Bridge.
Where is God during natural disasters? Many people asked that during 1989, a year that saw 14 major storms, 9 floods, 3 tornadoes, and 3 hurricanes, in addition to the earthquake.
Perhaps that’s the question David asked the day he discovered the Amalekites had raided Ziklag (1 Sam. 30:1-6). It was certainly not a natural disaster, but it did represent clear-cut danger. The possibility of losing wives and families created internal strife within his ranks. Yet the text tells us, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (v. 6). How did he do that? The next two verses answer the question: “David inquired of the LORD.”
In times of danger, especially those times in which we seem powerless to do anything for ourselves, Christians must review and affirm one of the major life principles of the Bible: God alone can be counted upon in times of total helplessness, even those times when friends turn against us.
Unfortunately, turning to God is often the last option many Christians consider. Some turn inward, believing they can conquer anything that comes along, and only when God stretches them out in utter hopelessness do they turn to Him. Others respond to a crisis by looking for human help – family, friends, pastors, counselors.
Natural disasters and other kinds of danger are difficult to explain and most of them contain riddles we will not solve until we get to heaven. But one principle stands firm – through that kind of experience, God calls us to look up and trust Him with the outcome, however bizarre it might seem at the time.
Where Is God during Illness?
Jim Conway is a familiar name among evangelicals who connect him with research and writing on male mid-life crisis. At the age of 16, Jim’s daughter, Becki, entered the hospital for testing on a malignant tumor on her leg. Each day the family laid hands on her leg and asked God to heal her; each day the tumor remained. One morning the doctor wheeled her into surgery and at Jim’s request, took one more look to make sure the tumor was still there. Two hours and forty-five minutes later he came out and told the family he had taken Becki’s leg off above mid-thigh.
Jim writes, in my anguish, I cried out to God, “Why? What’s Your reason? Why would You allow a beautiful girl to have her leg cut off when You could stop it? She is only a Junior in high school.” … I felt as if my whole world had fallen apart. My confidence in God was gone (CLR Vision, October 1989, p. 1).
Jehovah’s people crying out to Him for healing was a familiar sound in Bible times as well as now. In 2 Kings 20:1-3, king Hezekiah lay ill to the point of death, and the prophet Isaiah told him, “‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’ Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed. …And Hezekiah wept bitterly.”
Some suggest that Hezekiah’s tears were shed for the nation, worrying that his death would give the Assyrian Sennacherib something to boast about. I think he was tired of being sick and afraid of dying. He reminded God of his own personal righteousness and, unlike many similar situations in both Old and New Testaments, God responded by adding 15 years to his life. One commentator writes that “Hezekiah’s prayer (what he said) and his tears (how he felt about what he said) moved God to heal him” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 578).
What is the life-principle here? We might word it something like this: For reasons we often do not understand, God sometimes chooses to heal His people on the basis of prayer. That’s the positive side and we all rejoice in affirming it. The negative side? Sometimes He chooses not to. The history of the church to the present hour is replete with examples of “thorns in the flesh” God chose not to take away.
Jim and Sally Conway searched for answers about Becki. They all sounded like hollow advice from Job’s comforters until they finally admitted they did not need an answer, no answer other than that God loves them. Somehow in His sovereignty everything fits together, even when we’re sure it never can. How did Job put it? “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). To put it another way, I’m committed to God even if it kills me.
Where Is God during Trouble?
Where is God when we get into trouble? Many Bible characters could have asked that question. Some, like Joseph, more than once. Consider the trouble a teenage boy must feel when his brothers throw him into a cistern, then, a few hours later, sell him to a wandering caravan of Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:12-28). We know the outcome so we can read the account in the light of Joseph’s rise to leadership in Egypt. But I suspect it was somewhat difficult to make that kind of positive analysis from the bottom of the cistern.
Sometimes the financial blood drains out of a business and a good Christian goes bankrupt. Sometimes Christians lose their jobs or get sued. Sometimes marriages break up or teenagers get hooked on drugs. So where is God when we get into trouble?
Perhaps the life principle in the Joseph epic reminds us that the struggles of life, even when maliciously caused by other people (or by our own stupidity), cannot thwart God’s ultimate goals. Joseph’s youthful struggles were only complicated by a doting father and hateful brothers. Yet years later he could look at those brothers and recall that afternoon in the cistern: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
Where Is God during Sorrow?
I will always remember Sunday afternoon September 11, 1977. My mother lay dying in a hospital and there was nothing I could do. In fact, the next day she did die and those 48 hours were among the darkest of my entire life. To be sure, sorrow can be connected with illness or trouble but most often we focus primarily on the agony of the heart.
The outstanding biblical example has to be Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just before the Cross. The text tells us He “began to be very distressed and troubled” and told the disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mk. 14:32-34). His soul, His inner self-conscious life, was overwhelmed with grief so much that it almost killed Him before He got to the cross. The full impact of the spiritual consequences of His death had staggered the Son of God Himself. The possibility of alienation from the Father horrified Him.
There are numerous life principles which jump out of the text at us. Perhaps the one most important for our present focus reminds us that God’s plan for our lives may be at times, incomprehensible and desperately painful, but will always work out for our own good. The sorrow of the Garden turned into the death of the Cross. But that awful tragedy gave way to resurrection and glory, defeating Satan and opening the doors of heaven to all who trust the Savior.
I’m impressed that in sorrow prayer was necessary even for Jesus. That prayer focused on obedience; it required sacrifice and hard work. I’m impressed too, and not just a little bit frightened, that sometimes the worst crises of life have to be faced alone with only God to hear that prayer. The disciples were asleep and would have been little help awake. In the darkest pit of personal agony, sometimes God alone can hear our cries.
Where Is God during Death?
In late fall 1989, teenager Amy Lynn Thatcher of Duncanville, Texas was kidnapped and killed. She was a believer, apparently from a strong Christian family. What did the face of God look like to them at that girl’s funeral? An automobile accident or drowning hurts badly but kidnapping and abuse followed by murder surely reaches a higher level of pain. Where is God when we need Him at the time of death?
Another Christian family once struggled with that question. When Jesus reached Bethany, Martha reminded Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21). Moments later Mary echoed exactly the same sentiment. Martha’s faith in the Lord was strong; she understood the Old Testament and affirmed, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (Jn. 11:24).
That day to Martha, God’s Messiah offered a promise the like of which people never heard before or since: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26).
Life principle? You know it well: For Christians, as ugly and painful as it is, death is temporary. Life is permanent because life is eternal. The life of the ages has been made available through Jesus the Lord of life. His true spiritual life is of such a quality that the spirits of believers will never die.
But our question persists – where is God when I need Him? The answer persists too. He is precisely where He has always been – in His heaven taking complete charge of everything that happens in His world.
As we said at the beginning, the problem lies not in understanding what the Bible says, or even believing it. We must allow God’s Holy Spirit to activate the truth of His Word in our lives when we need it. That kind of reality doesn’t just occur, and it rarely takes hold after the fact. The spiritual strength of our lives on a day-to-day basis – before danger, illness, trouble, sorrow, and death strike – makes the difference in a time of crisis.
Remember, we don’t have to understand God’s plan, and it doesn’t have to make sense in human logic. Our only attitude to the omnipotent King of Heaven must be that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Our God is able to deliver us from any crisis. But even if He chooses not to, we will still serve Him.
Kenn Gangel, Kindred Spirit