God in the Gallows

It’s been a full weekend now, and I still can’t tear my eyes away from the screen. The shock, the horror of what happened in a small elementary school in Connecticut. Call it a tragedy. Call it a shooting. Give it any name you please, but our words and labels seem frightfully inadequate. A gunman in his 20s has not only killed his own mother, but he has also shot teachers, administrators, and staff. And then there’s the children. Empty classrooms and empty beds at night. As a teacher and parent myself, I can hardly fathom what must be going through the minds of those who have suffered such horrific loss. There are acts of heroism being reported in spite of it all, and people are rallying to support those in need. But how do you wrap your mind around this sort of evil? And where is God? It’s funny that America- a secularized nation- doesn’t want much to do with God the majority of the time, but now our thoughts turn to Him again. Where is He?

In a way, 9/11 was a simpler event to deal with. Terrorists, we can handle. The death of adults- though tragic- we can cope with to some extent. But senseless tragedy…..what do you do with it? Most Americans think of themselves as decent, incapable of this sort of thing. And so, mercifully, most of us don’t even contemplate massacring five-year-olds. Who shoots children multiple times, besides a monster? We realize, then, to our horror, that monsters are very, very real. They just don’t look anything like the sort of thing children fear. For the most part, they look like us. That’s the chilling truth. They look like us.

But what of God? Can’t He stop evil? If He is loving, why doesn’t He save the innocent victims? If He is all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop the violent? You see, buried in our two beliefs about God (that He is all-loving and all-powerful) are two other unspoken beliefs about God. We believe that because He is all-loving, God will remove us from whatever causes pain. We believe that if God is all-powerful, He will therefore use that power to do what we would do if we had that power. But we are not God. We do not know which events are necessary to the Divine plan (God requires that they happen because they are the plan), which events are incidental to the Divine plan (God can achieve His ultimate ends whether or not they occur), and which events occur in spite of the Divine plan (they are in opposition to God’s will, but He permits them to occur anyway.) Obviously, some events are a combination of these man-made categories.

Here’s my point: we don’t know it all. We don’t see it all. We are limited in knowledge and wisdom, time and space. We aren’t as good or holy as God. He’s the only one capable of knowing what must be, may be, and will be. As a friend once told me, God is not just the every-where God. He is also the every-when God. He is in all times and places at once. It gets better than that, though.

High and lofty as He is, God Himself visited us in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, He experienced every pain and grief imaginable. He barely survived Herod’s massacre shortly after birth, lived for years as an exile in Egypt, grew up in an impoverished village, earned the scorn of the religious and political leaders of His day, experienced hunger and thirst in the wilderness, was betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him, was beaten, was mocked, was unjustly put to death. God stepped out of His world of light, glory, honor, music, and wonder into our pain and suffering. So many have lost children to wars, disease, and- in recent days- acts of senseless violence. Let us not forget that God has lost one, too.

He didn’t just ordain, permit, or ignore suffering. He experienced it. All of it. We are victims on this earth, but God chose to endure horror itself for our sakes.

I am reminded of Elie Wiesel’s writings of his time as a Jew in prison camps such as Auschwitz. For days, Wiesel was forced to work, to suffer physically and emotionally, to question everything he knew of God. During a particularly brutal period, he and others were forced to watch the hanging of a fellow prisoner. As they watched in horror and despair, someone behind Wiesel mutter, “Where is God?” While Wiesel wrestled with this issue throughout his time in prison camps, a voice within him answered back: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.”

What Wiesel thought in despair, I say to you as an encouragement. Where is God? He is here. It’s Christmas, after all, and now more than ever we need our Immanuel– God with us. He is the Bread of Life. He is the Light of the World. He is the Door. He is the Good Shepherd. He is Way, Truth, and Life. He is the Resurrection. He is the Vine. He is I AM.

Whether we need a God Who reigns from His throne in eternity, or a God Who welcomes kindergarteners into His kingdom; whether we need a God Who speaks the universe into existence, or a God present in the gallows, that’s Who we have…..because that’s where He is.

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