Where is God?

  • Steve Hatter
man lifting hands up

When tragedy strikes and people experience great pain and loss, they will often quite literally “cry out.” Probably all of us have either cried out ourselves, or we have witnessed someone else in the throes of being crushed and responding with a heart cry expressing their suffering. Life deals difficulty, and everyone experiences it eventually. The ancient Greeks had the most fitting verb for this phenomenon of crying out. It was the word κραυγάζω, which is pronounced “kraugazó”, and it means to cry out with loud screaming or shrieking, especially with inarticulate or unintelligible sounds; to shout with a loud, importunate cry.

One refrain often expressed in “cry out” moments is this: “Where is God?” As believers, our God sometimes seems either far away or uncaring of our plight, and we cry, “where are you, Lord?” God’s enemies on earth will indict Him in tragedy and either outright reject His existence, or impugn His character or nature, saying He is not good, or He is not willing, or even, that he is not able. Considering the Coronavirus crisis, it is more than fair for us to ask the proverbial “why?” Why does God bring pressure and pain into our lives to the point where we cry out with a loud importunate cry?

We know as Christians that Holy Scripture, His Word, will tell us what we need to know to understand and to then persevere in pain because 2 Timothy 3:16 makes this claim: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Here we have a choice to make. Do we believe this? Do we believe an answer, the answer, is found in our Bibles?

The Psalms, expressed as God-breathed answers for us, are an ideal place to find understanding and encouragement under duress. Many of the Psalms are laments that come out of times of great distress and trouble. They are unashamed cries for help, for salvation, for rescue. These desperate laments are not pretty. They speak of times that you and I have faced, or will face when all seems lost except for God’s intervention. And so, at our extremity, we reach out to God and plead for rescue. The Psalms have a way of touching the human spirit, of helping us to pray when we are nearly beyond praying.

David, of course, penned many Psalms, and we need not look far to see his desperate moments. In Psalm 69:13–18, David, clearly in distress, cannot appeal to his own righteousness in this moment. Instead, he appeals to God’s love and mercy as he pleads for deliverance:

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant, for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies! (Psalm 69:13-18).

Why did David have to “cry out” in moments like these? Why were these heart cries preserved in poetic purity for us?

We know David was a type of Christ and we know that God used him mightily in His redemption plan for us. We also know that Jesus Christ Himself suffered in His humanity infinitely more than any one of us could bear, His suffering reaching a crescendo in real separation from God the Father at the very moments preceding His physical death on the cross. Jesus pleaded in His agony the haunting question we are all familiar with, which of course, we can also see as a prophecy in Psalm 22.  Matthew 27:46 says:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).

Christ’s pain—He cried out!—came by grace and it saves us for eternity when we believe. Our pain now, however acute, comes by grace, for gracious purposes, within the sovereign plans of a gracious and good God. Said another way, God will do whatever it takes to draw us unto Himself. He will even allow calamity to strike us. He will even die Himself on a cross for us.

Look carefully at David’s prayer for deliverance. He appeals to God not based on his own worthiness but based on God’s grace. His pain is not arbitrary or wasted because God’s power and purposes are made manifest in it. Now, look at Jesus, the true Christ. In His human agony, He cries out to God the Father from the cross as the ultimate demonstration of grace. Oh, how His pain is far from arbitrary or wasted! God’s power and purposes are made manifest in it. Suffering has meaning in a gospel context. Suffering moves us to salvation.

It has been said that “man’s extremities are God’s opportunities.” Though not a Bible verse, this pithy claim is proved throughout Scripture. Is it not true that we sometimes must come to the end of ourselves and our resources and our fleshly attempts to solve the issues in our lives, before we are able to see God working on our behalf?

Famed Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis’s conversion story, seems the perfect example of man’s extremities becoming God’s opportunities. Lewis was an ardent atheist. His mother had died of cancer when he was only nine, and his trust in God’s goodness was shattered. By the age of fourteen, Lewis had rejected faith in any kind of God, and horrific experience in World War I—in which he was wounded—only confirmed these convictions. Nevertheless, his immersion in European literature while on a path to becoming an Oxford professor, repeatedly confronted him with the fact that the writers he most admired were Christian. By 1929, Lewis felt compelled to adopt a cautious theism. In his 1955 autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis described himself at this point as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” God would not, and did not, give up on him, and now Lewis’s eloquent arguments for the Gospel of Jesus Christ as humanity’s only hope have blessed, and continue to bless, many. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity, influenced me greatly as God softened my heart unto salvation.

Lewis said this about suffering:

“For turning us toward God, sometimes nothing works like suffering. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy).

God uses suffering to bring us to the end of ourselves and back to Christ — and that is worth any cost.

Where is God, you ask? Cry out, but know He is right there in our pain endeavoring to save our souls.