Do you remember where you were December 25, 2004 at precisely 6:58pm (CST)? I was celebrating Christmas with my family and we had just opened our gifts. Return of the King was playing on TV and I was looking over the Marx Brothers and Godfather DVDs that my siblings got for me. Christmas. Little did we know that halfway around the world, there was an earthquake that registered 9.3 in the Indian Ocean, the 2nd largest ever recorded. This caused a tsunami with 50 foot waves traveling 500mph. The force was 23 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and literally moved the island of Sumatra 20 feet. Entire villages were leveled with 275,000 people perishing. Why did God let that happen? Does He care? Why does He stand by idly while people suffer?
Later today, hundreds of people, including dozens of my colleagues will be mourning the death and celebrating the life of Pastor B.G. Nevitt who died after injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident last week. He leaves behind a wife, daughter, grandkids, a grieving congregation, and a shocked but grateful city. His passing will be felt by thousands of people because of his care and compassion for people, and the impact he has had on Central Illinois. We may ask, “Where was God at 10:30am, August 17? Certainly, he wasn’t in the eastbound lane of U.S. 36 in Decatur, Illinois. Or was He? Why would God take someone who was so passionately and effectively reaching people for the Kingdom?
We may wave our fists and blame God for this tragedy. Or we may question his idleness and inaction. We probably know better and are only asking out of our shock and sadness. But there are very real causes for calamity and misfortune.
- Sin. Plain and simple, we live in a sin sick, fallen world. “Creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22). War. Famine. Terrorism. Murder. Violence. Suffering. Genocide. Disease. What we read about in the papers and see on the news daily are the consequences of our pride, independence, and rebellion against God. We continue to see sin’s eroding effects: disease, earthquakes, natural disasters, a deteriorating environment, and even death. This was not the way God intended, and while we have the option of living out His redemptive plan, we’re still limited by our imperfect humanity.
- Life happens. Things fall apart, there are malfunctions, carelessness, accidents, crashes, nature takes its course, and people die. At age 14, this became so real to me with the deaths of 3 of my friends in one year: one to leukemia, another to suicide, and the third in a car accident. I wanted to curse God. I wanted to walk away because I needed answers and I wasn’t getting any. Even now I sometimes doubt as I watch my own sister’s volatile health due to cancer and congestive heart failure. Where is the justice in letting one of the kindest, most loving people I know, my own sister, to suffer so greatly while scumbags run around freely destroying other people’s lives? Yet, in large part due to my sister’s faith, I still cling to the promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them” (Rom 8:28).
While He seems indifferent, distant, and detached, God does get involved in our lives, even when we can’t see or hear Him. “Rees Howells: Intercessor” demonstrates how hundreds of Western Europeans, with divine guidance by the Holy Spirit regarding even specific battles, probably helped win World War II for the Allies. God doesn’t necessarily cause certain occurrences to happen, but He can definitely turn them around for His Kingdom.
This probably won’t bring much comfort to the bereaved but we won’t always be able to explain or figure everything out on this side of heaven. When President Reagan was shot and Vice President Bush was in Texas, Secretary of State Alexander Haig entered the White House Press Room to demonstrate that the government was still functioning. “I am now in control here at the White House.” Constitutionally, he was wrong and there were doubts about his leadership. But we can be fully assured that God Is In Control, even when he seems thousands of miles away. Sounds like a copout but I choose to trust in God. He’s NEVER let me down.
There will be times we don’t feel His Presence, when our prayers don’t bring immediate relief and it seems like He doesn’t care. Our emotions lie to us and are skewed by our surroundings, stress, and pain. We place entirely too much stock into what we feel versus God’s promises. Prayer and God’s Word need to be our compass so we can stay focused and on trek. In the middle of the storm, He declares: “Peace be still. Be healed. I am willing. Your sins are forgiven. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
May God be with the Nevitt Family and GT Church! I pray for grace, peace, comfort, and joy!