The Wrong Question?

"Where was God?"

After a few days reflection, I have decided perhaps this is the wrong question. Or, at least, a question in need of modification.

After any tragedy, whether small or large, this question about God is the natural question for believers to ask. If we believe in a loving and powerful God, then where was He in all of this pain, suffering, hate and evil? If God is who He says He is, surely, then, He would have done something to prevent it. To mitigate the pain. To help us.

And the danger here, I think, is not necessarily dis-belief, but altered belief. As C.S. Lewis put it after the death of his wife:

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like...:

We aren't so much tempted to think God doesn't exist, but that He might, in fact, be monstrous. 20 children gunned down? Where WAS God indeed.

However, I think the better question is this: Where IS God?

We must acknowledge that what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary was monstrously evil. Personally, I can't help but think of those kids as kids I might have known in Cabin 30 and 31, our littlest campers. Kids to whom I would have given a Golden Toothbrush for a lost tooth. Kids who would have dressed up in proud costumes for Masquerade, or raced to the Barn for the Pig Chase. Even though these kids lived hundreds of miles from me, I know them, and I grieve for the loss of them.

But the terrible truth is this: Suffering happens every day. Perhaps not in such a concentrated, tragic, public way as what occured last Friday, but it's there. Such evil is not an isolated incident, unfortunately. Each day, in places near and far, Satan wages hard his war and inflicts his damage, seemingly at will. Innocents die every day, even if it isn't shown on CNN.

So, I think, our question should reflect this. Instead of asking "Where was God at Sandy Hook?" we must ask "Where IS God everyday?" We must settle in our mind the question of whether we believe God is who He says he is in the face of unrelenting and ubiquitous tragedy and suffering and evil. God didn't stop Sandy Hook from happening, just as He doesn't prevent countless acts of evil each day.

The answers are hard, and for many incomprehensible. Myself, despite having read many explanations (most of which I agree with on an intellectual level), I still don't understand fully why God allows such suffering. Who does?

(W)e should like to know the reason for the enormous permission to torture their fellows which God gives to the worst of men. C.S. Lewis (again)

But here enters Faith. I believe in a loving God. I believe in a God who can wrest goodness out of tragedy. I believe in a God who who is omnipotent, omniscient, and characterized by perfect love (who IS perfect love, in fact). I believe in a God who allows us to suffer, and who allows evil to trod the earth, and I also believe His ways are far above mine. Am I bothered by all of the evil and suffering in the world? Of course I am, particularly when the young and innocent are made to suffer. But my hope and faith rests in God: 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.


Interesting Read of the Day - Behold the Man

Behold The Man - Sermon by James S. Stewart

Link to story

I admit it: I was not familiar with the preacher James S. Stewart.  But now I am.  I was looking at the BBC website, and came across an article about a preacher named John Stott, who died over the summer. I then read a bit about Mr. Stott and his life, and noticed that Billy Graham considered him a friend.  I then went to Youtube to pull up a few Billy Graham videos.  I then googled the "best preachers ever."  There, unexpectedly (at least by me) at the top of the list was James S. Stewart.

So, I eventually ended up at this sermon by Mr. Stewart, and thought it worth sharing.  Why?

  • It is wonderfully written
  • It is convicting
  • It is inspiring

 Like most people in these days of digital delivery, I tend to think of sermons as either heard or watched, not read.  But this written sermon is as good as any sermon I've sat and listened to:

But the extraordinary thing was this, that neither with laughter nor with force, not with the massive arguments of her philosophers nor by the might of her thundering legions, could Rome stop Jesus. What actually happened was that Jesus stopped Rome, and on the dust and ashes of her broken splendour set the foundations of the empire of God which was to be.

The one name before which the Anti-God movement of to-day trembles is the name of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no modern Caesarism which can shoulder Christ off the page of history, or break His grip on the souls of men. After nineteen centuries, we still baptize our children in His name; when love and marriage come, His is the blessing we invoke, and His the altar at which we plight our troth; when all is over, it is beneath His cross we lay our dead, and it is in His message of eternal hope that we find comfort. Ten thousand times He has broken the chains of evil habit, and set the prisoners free. He has put energy and victory into wasted lives and souls rotting with sin. And there are those in this Church now who would unhesitatingly ascribe “every virtue they possess, and every victory won, and every thought of holiness,” not to their own resolution or resources, but to the saving might of Christ alone. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of a power.

If you are so inclined, I highly recommend finding a quiet spot, turning off the TV and reading - preferably slowly - this sermon by James S. Stewart.  Powerful stuff.


Interesting Read of the Day - Persecution

Christian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani Faces Potential Execution

Link to story

It's easy to forget how hard it is for many of our fellow Christians around the world.  It's easy to take for granted the almost frictionless religious freedoms we have in our country (despite the best efforts of the ACLU).

2,000 years on, people are still willing to die for His name.  I am humbled.    


Interesting Read of the Day - Whole Foods

How Whole Foods "Primes" You To Shop

Do you strive to "buy organic?"  Are you attentive to where and how your food is grown?  Do you make efforts to support "local" growers?  Good for you!  I wish I lived closer to such grocery options, but I live in the sticks.  If you live near other people, in things called "cities," however, you might have access to one of the most popular "organic" grocers in America, Whole Foods.

I've never been in a Whole Foods, but I can imagine the vibe. Crates of fresh produce. Informational tags about cute families who produce organic whole milk from their cow in the back yard. Lots of green and soft yellow and orange. You know...vibe.

But behind it all, apparently, is a very well-oiled marketing machine, impeccably designed to entice customers to do one thing...eagerly spend money. Of course, this is the essence of any good business, so no surprise there. But the genius of places like Whole Foods is they do such a good job of creating the perception that you're spending your money on something special. They do such a good job of creating a perception completely at odds with the reality of their business.  We see warm and fuzzy and local and earth-aware and environmentally sensitive. They see dollars. So, how do they do it? Consider:

The prices for the flowers, as for all the fresh fruits and vegetables, are scrawled in chalk on fragments of black slate--a tradition of outdoor European marketplaces. It's as if the farmer pulled up in front of Whole Foods just this morning, unloaded his produce, then hopped back in his flatbed truck to drive back upstate to his country farm. The dashed-off scrawl also suggests the price changes daily, just as it might at a roadside farm stand or local market. But in fact, most of the produce was flown in days ago, its price set at the Whole Foods corporate headquarters in Texas. Not only do the prices stay fixed, but what might look like chalk on the board is actually indelible; the signs have been mass-produced in a factory.

And more:

Then there's those cardboard boxes with anywhere from eight to ten fresh cantaloupes packed inside each one. These boxes could have been unpacked easily by any one of Whole Foods' employees, but they're left that way on purpose. Why? For that rustic, aw-shuckstouch. In other words, it's a symbolic to reinforce the idea of old-time simplicity. But wait, something about these boxes looks off. Upon close inspection, this stack of crates looks like one giant cardboard box. It can't be, can it? It is. In fact, it's one humongous cardboard box with fissures cut carefully down the side that faces consumers (most likely by some industrial machinery at a factory in China) to make it appear as though this one giant cardboard box is made up of multiple stacked boxes. It's ingenious in its ability to evoke the image of Grapes of Wrath-era laborers piling box after box of fresh fruit into the store.

Ode to the joys of pure, unadulterated marketing manipulation. It surrounds us every day, even when we just want to go buy something good to eat.


9/11/2001 - My Story

I remember much of this day:

The purpose of my trip was to travel to Houston to meet with my boss and a graphic designer to work on a brochure, and I was bringing all the photos and negatives for review. I had several binders, all organized and cataloged, classified and labeled. As a result, I remember I didn't get to bed until about 1:00 a.m. 

I woke very early, at least for me. I was scheduled to be in Houston later that day and had a flight out of Little Rock, leaving sometime just after 7:00 a.m. My flight would take me from Little Rock to Dallas, then on to Houston.  The drive to the airport was just under 2 hours, so I probably left around 4:00 a.m.  I don't remember much of the drive, or of checking in at the airport, but I obviously made it in time.

Once on the plane, I fell right asleep.  I'm sure I slept through take-off.  Somewhere over southwestern Arkansas, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower.  None of us knew.

We landed in Dallas, but since I was not changing flights, I stayed in my seat and waited for Dallas passengers to unload, and Houston passengers to board.  Again, I slept.  After a few minutes, I was aware of the oncoming Houston passengers, and could sense that something was amiss.  There was a lot of discussion about New York, and about the plane crash.  I had no idea what was being discussed, but I didn't think too much of it at the time.  I assumed a small plane had crashed into a New York building.

The plane pushed from the gate.  We began to taxi, and then came to a stop.  I can remember being a bit aggrevated, because I was ready to get to Houston.  We held our position for a bit longer, and I can remember looking out the window and seeing other planes taxi back to the terminal...odd.  Our plane began to move back toward the terminal, and the captain made the following announcement (as best I can recall): "Ladies and Gentlemen, due to the incident in New York, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered all planes back to the terminal. Once again, all planes have been ordered back to the terminal, and all passengers will be asked to exit the plane. My apologies for the inconvenience."  The first hint of dread trickled up my spine. This was serious.

As soon as I stepped off the plane into the concourse, I realized it WAS serious. Nervousness and anxiety were writ plain on people's faces. Groups gathered here and there, and almost everyone was using their phone. There was a palpable sense of fear, but for what I didn't yet know. I wandered around a bit, unsure of what to do. I tried to find additional information, but no one really seemed to know much, other than something terrible had happened in New York, and it involved planes. I went to a few additional airline gates (hopelessly, as it turns out) in an effort to see if there was any other way to get to Houston. I was very confused, and the reality of that day had only just begun to make its way into my brain.

Then I passed by a television, and my world shifted. It took me a few seconds to process what I was seeing: There on the screen was a shot of both towers, on fire, billowing smoke. I honestly can't remember the details, but I think I came upon the TV shortly after the 2nd plane, flight 175, had impacted the South Tower. Certainly, for those around me, there was now no doubt these acts were intentional, that New York (and the United States) was under attack.

As I watched, it became obvious that, at least within the news organizations, there was a large degree of uncertainty and chaos. Reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon began to filter in, which of course turned out to be true. But there were also reports of other planes, perhaps many other planes, that had been hijacked, that were heading towards Washington and New York and other large cities. Like Dallas.

I can't remember how long I stood in front of that television, listening to the reporters as they tried to put together some sort of narrative. Rumors of other planes, other exposions, other disasters filtered in and out, muddying the waters. But what remained crystal clear and above dispute were the images of those two burning towers. As I watched, the disaster began to become more of a human disaster. My thoughts turned from national and political implications to the plight of those trapped in those two buildings. As the cameras zoomed in and tried to peer through the smoke, the extent of human suffering, high above the ground, became evident. Of course, I didn't know all I know now. I didn't know about all of the jet fuel, and the size of the planes, and number of people aboard, or about the destroyed stairwells. All I knew was that as I watched the television, images of fire and smoke and destruction, of death, were plain to see. It was awful.

Still, I watched the images on the screen. The image of those two towers, and complete dread about what else might happen, kept me glued on place. People around me were talking about how hard a helicopter rescue would be that high up, and how the firetruck ladders would never reach. How would those people be rescued? And when, at about 9:00 a.m. CST, the South Tower collapsed, I remember thinking, "My God, 10,000 people just died." I also remember thinking, "We have just been successfully attacked, on our home soil. We're now at war."

My feelings of dread and disbelief at that time are as clear and concrete as anything I can remember. My soul was filled with anger, certainly, as I began to put together the implications of what I was seeing.  But also a sense of despair. I can remember standing in front of the TV, with scores of other travelers, trying to look into the future to the next few days, few months, few years. I certainly didn't imagine all that would unfold, but as I pondered what the images on the television might mean, I knew that our country, and lives of all Americans, had just been altered to an epic degree. That sense of, "nothing would ever be the same" was almost overpowering.

I soon moved away from the television, unwilling to just stand like a tree. I began to try to figure out what to do, how to get out of the airport. No rental cars were available, and I had no where to go without one. Finally, I called my sister-in-law, who lived not far away. She agreed to come pick me up, so we arranged to meet just outside baggage claim. As I went to retrieve my bag, police officers were starting to clear the, the entire airport. They were polite, but firm: Everyone must depart the terminal, NOW.  Find a way home, find a hotel, find somewhere to go, but get OUT of the airport. As I stood on the curb outside baggage, a police officer made his way through the crowd, asking each of us, "Are you leaving? Do you have somewhere to go? We need you to leave as soon as possible." I remember at this point realizing, for the first time, that the entire aviation industry had just come to a halt. No planes, no flights, no passengers, nothing. Again a sense of dread, a sense of being caught in the middle of something inexplicable and huge and dangerous.

I made it to my brother's apartment, and immediately began to make plans to get to Houston. My brother allowed me to use his pickup to make the trip, so after traveling to Dallas to get his vehicle, I began to head down I-45 to Houston. For the entire trip, I was glued to the radio. I sat and listened to as many news reports as I could, mesmerized, angry, upset.  I barely remember the drive.  In fact, I was so out of it that as I neared Conroe, 3 hours down the road, I realized I had left all of my photos and negatives back at my brothers apartment in Fort Worth. I immediately turned around and headed back. I was so captivated by the events of te day, I could scarecly bring myself to even care that I had just wasted 6 hours of driving.

Once I returned to by brother's apartment, I sat myself in front of the television. For hours and hours I watch the coverage, bouncing around with the rest of the country from news report to news report. Some were credible, some were simply rumors chasesd.  Over time, though, the events of that day began to crystalize. Four planes were hijacked. Two planes hit the WTC Towers. One plane hit the Pentagon. One plane crashed in Pennsylvania.  I stayed up late into the evening, watching replays of the footage, some old, some just now becoming available. I saw footage of people jumping from the towers. I saw the footage of the planes entering the buildings. And I heard, not for the first time, the words "Osama bin Laden" and "Al Queda."  I cried a lot that night, it was all so sad and terrible.

As the images of the wreckage of the towers, the estimated loss of life, the thousands and thousands presumed dead, as these things became known, I was sick with sadness. I stayed up until the early morning hours; I can remember the sun rising. At some point, my brother came in, we said a few words. I can't remember if he went to work that day or not. But I got into his pickup, and again drove to Houston.

Some argue everything changed on that day. Some argue that nothing changed, that America was knocked down but swifty got back up. I can see it both ways, but I tend to think a lot changed. We went to war. We renewed our appreciation for heroes, however we defined them. We began to ponder our place in the world as a nation, and to reflect on how our actions affected others. We began to examine what it meant to be an American. We became a nation on guard, for better and for worse. We returned to church (although maybe only for a short time), and "God" became someone to talk about. We, for a while, were kinder to one another, and echoes of that kindness still linger, even in these tumultuous times.

Yes, I think a lot changed on that day, for many, many people. Those who argue "nothing changed" perhaps argue only for themselves, I don't know. I do know that September 11, 2001, was a terrible, terrible day, a day that shook our nation to its core, and a day whose impact still reverberates. And although the details may fade over time, I will never, till the day I die, forget what happened on that day, that terrible, awful day of violence, and death, and suffering.