Everyone asks the question at some point:
Where was God when…
…my job was taken from me? …I was bullied in junior high? …when I…
The question is asked all the time. And it’s a perfectly decent question to ask. Even the Bible, the prime written testament to God, is packed with people bothering God about all kinds of things, sometimes getting an answer, sometimes not at all [see Hebrews 11].
I found myself asking this question the other night. After our older son, Silas, came home from a lice-infested nursery, we wanted to make sure he [and we!] wouldn’t unwittingly invite the little creatures into our home.
With my wife’s encouragement, I bathed him and applied the special lice medication I found at the drugstore and put him down to sleep with no issues. Until an hour later, that is, when he woke up crying out in pain. We know our son’s cries-that’s the mysterious ability of the parent. We can tell if our toddler is throwing a fit or throwing a lifeline for help.
The scenario we encountered was the latter: Silas desperately needed us. A tiny amount of the lice medicine had found its way into his eye and was now causing some significant irritation, far too much for a 20 month old to handle. We gave him medicine first. He slept for another hour after some angry tears. After another couple of rounds with cuddling, gentle words, and even a 2am bath, nothing was helping. He was enraged-and now he was struggling to open his left eye.
Kaile made it clear that she wanted me to go to the emergency room with him. I resisted for a moment, wondering if we had an alternative. Looking again, I decided it was the next thing to do. It was 3am. I was already exhausted [yeah, Silas has a new baby brother, so…]. Now I was hopping into an Uber car and making my way to the ER for Silas’s first visit.
Thankfully, things went as well as they could have gone.
But the night was hellacious. I’ll be feeling the effects for a while, to be sure. After I got home from the ER, Kaile and I prayed for peace and endurance, for sleep and for health.
Now our situation is certainly not so terrible. Lots of parents have gone through worse experiences than this, more consistently difficult issues than we, more overwhelming pain or inconceivable loss. I know our little troubles are minuscule in the bigger scheme of things. In the future, we may face more difficult realities-who knows how life will evolve. And again, this particular situation was my fault anyway.
But however good or bad our situation, we end up asking,
“where was God?”
Let me interject a concept from Scripture. The Old Testament contains a seldom-preached book called Judges that depicts the very earliest years of the Israelite people. If you read carefully, you’ll notice a pattern in Judges, a cycle:
- Israel serves God
- Israel gets distracted from God and worships other gods
- Israel is enslaved
- Israel cries out to God
- God raises a judge [leader who spiritually and physically helps the people]
- God delivers Israel
The cycle, while not occurring at every instance in this precise order, reveals how when good things are happening, people depart from God.
It’s not hard for me to see this on the daily. Who needs God when your 401[K] is off the charts, your business is growing, when you just got a powerful new job, when your car is fast, when everyone oohs and ahhs when they see your Viking range and quartz countertops?
While God can be so close and so needed during our difficulty, God can turn into a trite joke with the rise of a career or the fortunes of a business.
Regina Spektor said it well in her song Laughing With:
No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet
God can be funny,
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious
The song concludes with the concept that we’re actually laughing with God. Interesting concept, lots of great thoughts in this piece of art. Go look that song up and have a listen. It’s worth three minutes.
Anyway, you get the point.
We all want God at our beck and call-when we need something, when things aren’t going as well. We want God to fix the issue of the job we lost. Right now I’d like someone to lease our apartment once we move so I don’t have to pay $2600/month for a place I don’t occupy. Makes me think about a good image for understanding God-a concept I’ve written about before.
God is like a parent.
We love our parents at Christmas, when they buy us ice cream, when they give us a set of keys to our own car. But when dad makes us do homework or clean the yard? Forward-thinking kids would call Child Protective Services! Mom wants us to go to church!? What about my freedom of choice? I’m 15 years old, for goodness sake? Clean the dishes, sure, but I’ll need to see an uptick in my allowance for the week.
We treat God the same way. When tough stuff happens, God’s a jerk. Conversely, when things are going well, we plain don’t notice God. I guess God’s a little different than us parents in this-at least we [hopefully!] notice when parents do good things for us. This happened for the ancient people of Israel, and it happens in real life. Silly as it is, there aren’t that many practicing atheists in foxholes. Agnostics? Well, sure, why not.
But pain often reminds us of the loss or displacement of something formerly good. The investment account that tanked during a bad quarter used to pay steady dividends. The painful divorce followed years of marriage that contained some meaningful conversations, maybe a couple delightful children. The cancer metastasized ravenously within a body that had flourished for decades.
People find their way back to church after a divorce, after the loss of a child, after news of cancer, after financial woes rise to undeniable levels. I think part of the reason people come back because God is whispering to our souls how much we’re loved, how much we’re missed, how much is waiting for us. A wise person told me the sunrise comes every morning whether we get up to see it or not. Is this not true with our connection to God? Does not God still exist whether or not we pray, whether or not we fail to believe that he is there?
As I think over the situation with our son the other night, I picture God caring for me in the same way I cared for my son as he suffered. Again, the analogy doesn’t quite work because I’m not God and I’m far from perfect. After all, I could have worked harder on keeping the suds out of his eyes-it really was my bad.
But I hope I continue to prove my love for Silas as I continue to care for him in good times and bad. I hope to model, even if it’s in an imperfect fashion, the constant love of God. Sure, I’ll fail him, but I still hope I can offer the tiniest glimpse of forgiveness so he can turn and thank God for his life and the blessings that surround him.
It was a powerful moment for me when Silas woke up with closed eyes. He needed my hand to get around our little apartment. Without sight, Silas was forced to trust me to give him the things he needs. As his eyes stayed shut, I fed him his whole lunch. What he doesn’t know yet is that his daddy is the same way. I’ve got to hold God’s hand, whether I’m making a life choice or just trying to get better at parenting [and keeping lice out of my house!]. I’ve got to trust God with things that are beyond my control, things that I can’t see.
I would be devastated if Silas lost his vision permanently, and I regret getting soap in his eye. But, amidst the chaos, I treasured the moments when he had to put his faith in me to the extent that I fed him lunch. Thankfully he is recovering, resilient little rascal that he is.
Maybe, moving forward, I’ll be shocked at how few bad things happen in my life and in my community and how much goodness exists in our crazy world.
Maybe, during seasons when it’s easiest to forget God and blame him for problems and difficulties, I’ll turn and say a genuine thank you to Jesus, even as he prays for the world and even for me.
Maybe, as I continue this path-my own spiritual journey-I’ll get better at asking the “where was God” question during good times and hard times, and learn that he’s holding my hand the whole time, feeding me body and soul.