In a matter of days our nation was rocked to the core. An initial shockwave came with the Boston Marathon bombing, soon followed by a second wave as a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas. Its wounds are still raw as many lives were lost, and even more wounded.
How do we process such events? As a Christian, how do we align these events with our faith in a loving God? Many questions flood our minds, and as we stand in the chasm of wonder it quickly becomes apparent, that as a people, we tend to insulate (and isolate) ourselves to live in bubble worlds. Moments such as those experienced and felt in recent days come crashing into our ordered lives to remind us of the shortness and fragility of life. Moments such as these also have the power to bring out the best in people. As the days have passed, stories of heroic proportion have surfaced; stories of love, sacrifice, and hope.
One thing I have learned in life is that suffering is a part of the human existence. The reason for this reality goes back to the creation story in the Garden of Eden. Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, sin entered into the world (Genesis 3). From the action of one man at the base of a tree, a shockwave rocked all existence to its core which is still felt today. Thus, we taste pain, suffering, tragedy, and death.
At the base of another tree—in the form of a cross—we find resolution to the Garden through another man, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus did not avoid suffering, but rather, He ran toward it!
Jesus cared enough to come into the mess of this world to shine His Light in the present darkness. Because He came as one of us, He understands intimately what we are going through. He knows the tragedy of loss, He felt the pain of His own Father’s rejection as He painfully hung upon the cross, and He experienced the sorrow of death as the nails of a cross were pounded through His hands and feet. Listen to how Shayne Wheeler describes the relationship between God and suffering:
The question is often asked, “Why does God allow suffering?” This is not the ultimate question we should be asking. We know it’s not because God is impotent to stop it or that he doesn’t care. So, there must be a deeper issue. We get to that issue when we ask, “What has God DONE to answer suffering?” That question brings us to the very reason for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The coming of Jesus is nothing less than God’s answer to everything that has gone wrong in our world (not just the sin in our heart). Cancer, relational alienation, betrayal, violence, oppression, etc. are not the way it is supposed to be. Jesus came to put the world—the whole world—to rights. (Shayne Wheeler, The Briarpatch Gospel)
As followers of Jesus, what if we were to use this moment as an opportunity to speak into people’s lives the life-transforming truth of God’s love? Instead of shaking our heads in disgust or looking for someone to blame, how about using these energies and words to give someone a hug, a pat on the back, or an encouraging word? Right now there is a man sitting in jail who needs our prayers; who needs Jesus. Right now there are people in West, Texas mourning loss who also need Jesus, trying to pull together the pieces of their broken lives. Right now, there is a nation and world of walking wounded desperately needing Jesus. Who are the people in your life struggling “in the garden”? Run to them and love on them with Christ’s compassionate presence (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Sadly, there will be other moments such as those felt in recent days. Count on it. As Christians, our hope in the midst of such moments is found in God. I am reminded of some incredibly powerful words from the Book of Deuteronomy. Picture the scene: Moses’ long tenure as leader of Israel is about to be handed over to a man named Joshua. Can you imagine filling Moses’ shoes? Israel was about to face shockwave after shockwave of change and uncertainty as their leader for years is about to die; yet listen to God’s encouragement to them during this national tragedy:
“The Lord HIMSELF goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
Did you catch it? Notice that it is “God Himself” who steps into the moments of our lives with His presence. What a word of promise! We worship and follow a God who does not stay far off, but has chosen to come close through His Son Jesus Christ. In fact, one of the names the Bible uses for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Take comfort in these words. My friend, here is where it gets personal. I encourage you to model this same incarnational, poured out presence for the community in which God has placed you as a missionary of the Gospel. Our God-given call is to “gather, grow, and GO” with the Gospel of Christ to make disciples in the places we work, go to school, eat out, shop, work out, and get our coffee. The mission field is between our own two feet.
Everywhere we go, people need Jesus.
Yes, the missional task is endless, but take comfort my friend, God is with present with you in the midst of the present darkness. He goes before us to prepare the way. Jesus Himself reminds us of this in the very last words of the Gospel of Matthew:
[Jesus said,] “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
It is time to run … as the initial shockwave felt from one tree finds resolution in another. Through the tree of the cross, all pain and sorrow caused by sin finds an answer. In the meantime, keep running through the Spirit’s power and presence! Run as to win the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), taking as many people with you! Run into the arms of our ever-present, loving Savior! Run!
Running in God’s grip of Grace,