When God Is Most Present
I've been working on sermons for a series that we're preaching at my church on the book of Job---a book from the Hebrew Scriptures that at its most basic level tries to answer the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
But at a deeper level, Job is a story of how people often try to figure out what God is up to, or where God is in the middle of suffering.
As I was pondering this, I remembered a passage from Elie Weisel's book Night. Weisel relates how the Nazi guards hung several prisoners for a trumped-up charge, and the condemned included a young boy.
The boy was too light for the noose to work quickly, so he died slowly and painfully in front of all of the prisoners. One of them cried out, "Where is God?" The reply came from another prisoner, "Up there on that scaffold."
That story has always struck me as one of the most important I have ever read--especially when I have questions about the presence of God in the midst of suffering.
The reason why this resonates with me--and honestly does for most of us---is because when we are in midst of suffering we want to know that God is near. Far too often, however, our angst, anxiety, and fear can keep us from being able to see where God is present with us as we are facing challenges.
One of the many quotes that I jotted down from Madeline L'Engle's book Walking On Water is the one below, which spoke to me so deeply:
I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong when the good things do not happen when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.
This is a wonderful reminder, but in order for us to fully experience God in the midst of our struggles and suffering, we have to be willing to surrender, and that's not at all easy.
We can say all the right things when everything is going well, can't we? We can talk about how we need to let go of attachments, die to ourselves, "let go and let God," take things one day at a time, and remind ourselves that "easy does it."
But the real test comes when the storm clouds gather and the rain begins to fall, and we have to come to grips with the fact that most of us don't easily recall all of the platitudes we made on our sunnier days?
This is when faith/trust comes into play--the kind that only can thrive when we surrender our outcomes and open our eyes a little wider to perceive the reality of God around us.
It is in those moments that we can, if we are willing, draw closer to God than ever before. And then we can find the strength to let go of our need to fix everything or make all of the bad stuff disappear.
What about your faith/trust in God needs some close scrutiny right about now?
Do you truly believe the things that you say you believe? It's easy to say "yes" when things are great. But maybe you are in the middle of a struggle right now and need to be reminded of God's promises to never leave or forsake you.
Maybe you need to let go and open your eyes. Because God is there with you in the middle of it all. God is near, right now. Let yourself feel God's presence, and live in hope.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.