On April 15, the Federal income tax filing deadline, the adage, “The only certainties in life are death and taxes,” took on terrifying new meaning. The bombings near the finish line of the revered Boston Marathon took several lives and maimed many others, shattering a popular – and traditionally joyous – community and regional celebration.
The fact one of the victims was Martin Richard, a bright, engaging, eight-year-old boy, barely on the cusp of a promising life, made the sinister plot to cause pain, mayhem and devastation even more horrific and incomprehensible.
Initially, thoughts centered around who had perpetrated such a criminal act – and why. But inevitably the question arises: “Where was God?” Or as others might phrase it, “If God is so good and loving, how could He allow such a terrible thing to happen?”
Similar questions arose in the aftermath of the Dec. 14, 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six adults were killed; after terrorists commandeered the jets on Sept. 11, 2001, taking more than 3,000 lives; following the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when 168 people died, including 19 children under the age of six. And sadly, after too many other senseless acts.
So, where was God when these events took place?
There are many possible answers to this question, but I don’t believe we can assert He was uncaring, indifferent, distant, or even non-existent. In each case, He was there in the hands, arms and legs of the first responders who ran to assist the injured. He was there making certain the number of casualties was not greater. He was there in the eyes, ears, lips and embraces of people that offered listening ears, caring touches and compassionate words to all affected. And I believe He was there in ways we can’t conceive.
But there’s one aspect of the question, “Where was God?” that concerns me.
Let me offer an analogy: Picture a neighbor who makes every effort to reach out to you, offering friendship. He or she – or they – Invite you to their home for dinner or a casual visit. They extend kindnesses, like a freshly baked pie or cake, or volunteering their help. They happily greet you whenever they see you, but you consistently ignore them or look the other way.
You rebuff their every attempt to enter into your life.
Then comes a day when you desperately need their help. Perhaps your car has broken down and you need to get somewhere quickly. Or you have some kind of domestic crisis. Then – and only then – do you acknowledge their existence. You go to them, soliciting their help. How would you reasonably expect them to respond?
Now imagine God being that neighbor. For decades we have systematically schemed to exclude Him from every aspect of our daily lives – schools and institutions of higher learning; public facilities; sporting arenas; hospitals; governmental and civic events; the media; retail stores, insisting on “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” In some communities, freedom to conduct Bible studies in private homes has even been challenged.
The omnipresent God cannot be evicted by legislation or mandate, but He’s graciously withdrawn His restraining presence. Perhaps He’s said, “OK, if you don’t want me around, I’ll stay out of your way. See how that works for you.”
When things are going well, no problem. We don’t even sense God’s absence, His lack of involvement. We don’t need Him. But when calamity strikes, we suddenly wonder, “Where was God?”
I’m not suggesting in any sense that God orchestrates such heinous events. Or that His faithful followers are somehow immune from life’s calamities. But we shouldn’t be surprised when, after deliberately seeking to eliminate Him from our everyday lives, He doesn’t instantly intervene when evil intentions become evil actions, resulting in intense pain and suffering.
The Bible describes God as “my hiding place and my shield” (Psalm 119:114). Another passage views Him as “my fortress and my deliverer…my rock, in whom I take refuge…my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
Our nation was founded with reverence for God – and awareness of His protective powers, as described above. But in today’s “enlightened, progressive” thinking and philosophies, our society has chosen to dispense with that. Proverbs 29:18 states, “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.”