Where do I find God in this world of tragedy and pain?William Sloane Coffin suggests that we have a God who provides us with minimum protection and maximum support. I agree with him—but I don’t like it. In the face of tragedy and pain, minimum protection from God just doesn’t feel good enough for me. My instinct is to seek—and expect—a spiritual firewall from God. And when I don’t get it, I get indignant, and like millions of others, I shake my fist at the heavens and demand to know why this is happening. I end up looking for a God who will provide protection—and miss out on the God who offers support.
We may want to keep clear of tragedy and pain, but God always moves toward it. Over the years, I have sat with scores of families who have been shredded with grief over the death of a loved one. Especially in the cases of unexpected death, the pain is as deep as it ever gets. In practically every single instance, whenever someone shares a memory, a story—something about the person who just died—people begin to laugh. It’s not nervous laughter, or an exercise in denial, or simply a short break from tears and despair. It is real joy—short-lived, yes, but deep joy for the love that was shared, and will always be remembered. That joy is real; it often surfaces in the midst of tragedy. I can’t say for certain that this fleeting joy is God, but it certainly can be a comfort; and a divine support.
—The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith
This is a world of tragedy and pain. It is also a world of joy and fulfillment. It is my conviction that God is present to us in both worlds. The question always is how these two worlds can exist at the same time. There is no easy answer. The closest I can come to it in my own experience is that only a world of freedom could create that possibility. How could we choose good if evil did not offer us a choice. Creativity always comes out of chaos.
But to return to our question: It is easy to sense God's presence when things are going right. But where is God when things fall apart? Do we not find the divine presence in the very place that Jesus found it during his crucifixion? Could there be a greater experience of tragedy and pain than that? God was there in the loving acts extended to Christ by those who loved him and stayed with him to the end. His mother, Mary Magdalene, the disciples—all were there in their grief and broken-heartedness.
In our world of pain, we can find God in the loving acts of those who stand by us. In our illnesses we can be grateful for those of the medical profession who fight to restore our health. They are the instruments of God and through them his love comes. All healing really is divine. In our emotional distresses God comes to us through a friend, a family member, a counselor, or a minister to offer us encouragement. God is there through those who care. In moments of deep need, God comes in a mysterious way to give us courage.
No one escapes the struggles of life. Our goodness or our faith do not make us immune from suffering. God never promised that life would be without its painful moments. We are promised that God will be with us no matter what we face. Someone wrote, "Peace does not come with the absence of troubles, but with the conscious realization of adequate resources." God can be found as the supplier of all the resources we need to get through life's difficult moments. We also find God in the messages of hope. This experience of pain will not have the last word. Jesus said to his disciples, "In this world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
The ultimate victory belongs to the power of love. Christ came to bring us that message. Something abides beyond the suffering—the presence of one who has control of the future. The word of hope is that our future is in the hands of God. Love, courage and hope sum up the resources we have to face our personal tragedies and pain.
—The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey
God does not promise to prevent pain and tragedy. If we are fortunate to live long enough, we will experience and encounter pain over and over again. What God does promise is to be with us through the pain; God promises to give us the power of His presence so that we can cope, so that we can have perspective, so that the pain of loss, of heartbreak, of our own dying does not overwhelm.
Look for God in the person who sits and listens with his or her heart when you need to pour out yours. Look for God in hope that grows out of ashes; look for God in the growth and peace that comes to some who have been through dark valleys. Look for God in the laughs of small children and in the confidence of youth. Look for God in every person who is open to God, everyone who seeks and searches for God; look for God in everyone who asks questions such as yours.
—The Rev. William A. Kolb
The part of Christianity that is most meaningful to me is the story of the Good Samaritan. Its message speaks of helping those one doesn't know, maybe those with whom one has never spoken, those who are different from ourselves. There are opportunities to reach out, out of our comfortable lives into those lives of need. At my church, we feed the homeless on Sunday mornings, asking nothing from them in return. These are the ones who are traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. In their faces are pain and tragedy. They are mostly men but sometimes women and children. They have lost hope. Last week the group of homeless was bigger than ever. I prayed for loaves and fishes, Lord let there be enough so none goes hungry. There were 96 meals and exactly 96 waiting to be fed.
There is God in this world of tragedy and pain. I see Jesus in their eyes on Sunday mornings.
Kosovo, Littleton, Oklahoma City—these words bring to mind images of awful human tragedy and pain. Were those victims able to find God in their midst? Where can we find God in this world?
As I thought about this compelling question, I realized that ideas have come to me from a variety of sources:
First there was Rabbi Harold S. Kushner's book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Then there was a homily that Doug Bailey, my church's rector at the time, delivered on Easter some years ago. "Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again in you, and you, and you," he said as he pointed to us in the pews. WOW! That thought had never occurred to me before. Christ coming through me to others? Could that be?
Marcus Borg's book, The God We Never Knew, helped me more thoroughly comprehend that Easter sermon and helped me grow in the understanding that God is not a judge up in the heavens but is living among and through you and me.
I used to think that God's presence would come to me like a bolt of lightning and zap me. Now I know that I need to reflect many times each day and take an inventory at the end of the day. How has God tried to touch me today? Was it in a stranger's smile, a new flower, an e-mail message, scripture, words in a hymn? (During my first Sunday visit to Calvary, I felt God's presence in all the smiling faces.) Could it be possible that I have helped others know God's presence today? What might I or could I have done to help God's presence be felt by others? Could I have done more?
God's presence may not be packaged in the way we expect. Taking the time to make that mental inventory helps me recognize that presence. I hope it helps you.
In my experience, God is everywhere. On the rare occasions when I've been able to focus on Him, I've felt His presence. It is amazingly difficult to do. The pressures of work, family, friends, schedules, deadlines, wants, needs, and fears all flood my mind and crowd out God. Sometimes tragedy and/or pain has been the catalyst that allowed me to turn off the noise of my everyday life and focus on God.
When I've allowed myself to be open to God, I've seen Him all around me. I have seen Him in other people, in acts of kindness, in the faith of another fellow Christian, in my children, and in my wife. I have felt His presence in worship, in nature, in meditation, in scripture, and especially in prayer. My spiritual life sometimes seems like a roller coaster. In times of great despair when I yearn for God's presence, I often find I'm too busy dealing with the problems at hand to stop and listen to Him. Not that He speaks words; I experience God in a spiritual joy and comfort that is more powerful than mere words. I have found that when I sincerely put God above all else and look He is there.
Sometimes people become disillusioned by tragedy and pain. They attempt to explain it away by saying that everything has a purpose. I like to think that God manifests himself in our solutions. It is our responsibility to make the proper response. Crisis can be opportunity. In Search for Meaning Victor Frankl refers to the concentration camps stating,
…it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself…an accomplishment which in ordinary circumstances they would have never achieved.
Based on human potentiality, I firmly believe that everything can have a purpose. Glory be to God.
We look for God in prayer, in close relation with others, and in the church. Most of all we find the face of God in the tears, the hugs, and the words of comfort others bring to us in times of great sorrow and pain. Here we can experience authentic moments of God's pure and unconditional love.