Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mark's thoughts: "Why?" or "Where?" - Christian response to tragedy

Whenever an area is hit by destructive weather, it always reminds me of the May 8, 2009 inland hurricane that struck our part of southern Illinois and left my house without power for five days.  The tornadoes in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest on Sunday have yet again caused death and destruction.  These are the thoughts I wrote soon after the 2009 storm.

“Why?” or “Where?”

“While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”  Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:18-21).

As I emerged from our basement in the aftermath of the storm that took place on May 8 and surveyed the damage in my neighborhood, and then later in the area as a whole, these words of Scripture came to mind.  Thanks be to God, that the storm did not take the life of anyone in our congregation.  However it did cause varying degrees of damage and disrupted the lives of many members at Good Shepherd.

In the storm, we have received an unforgettable reminder that we live in a fallen world. We have seen first hand the destructive disorder that sin has worked in creation.  We have been reminded about why we pray “deliver us from evil” and have seen that God does just that.  We have experienced something that should prompt us to ponder what “give us this day our daily bread” really means. 

Job’s words express a deep sense of trust in God – in the very fact that God is God.  As we look at the storm, we may want to ask “Why?”  We ask questions like: “Why did God permit an inland hurricane to form?  Why did God allow this storm to strike our area?  Why did he allow it to cause hardships like the death of a member at Immanuel Lutheran, Murphysboro, IL and the destruction of the school gym at Christ Lutheran School in Jacob, IL?

As Job continued through the experience of his trials, he struggled with the question of, “Why?”  However, Job never received an answer to this question.  That is the way it usually works when we begin to ponder and even question the secret will of God.  In the event of the storm we encountered what Martin Luther described as “the hidden God.”  We encounter something that makes no sense to us and for which God provides no answer.  We are forced to admit that God is God, and we are not.  We must be content to let God be God, and not attempt to probe the mysteries of His will – or worse yet, attempt to make Him answer to us.

Job never received an answer to the question of, “Why?”  However, what he did receive was the revelation of God Himself (Job 38-42).  An answer was not revealed to Job.  Instead, God revealed Himself and in that revelation Job admitted that there was nothing more he needed to know (Job 42:1-6).

In the face of events like the storm, the question we need to ask is not, “Why?”  Instead, the question that needs to be asked is, “Where? – Where does God reveal Himself for us?”  There is a very definitive answer to that question.  We heard the answer to that question on Christmas Eve: in the manger.  We heard the answer to that question on Good Friday: on the cross.  We heard the answer to that question on Easter Sunday: in the resurrected flesh of Jesus Christ.  God has revealed Himself for us in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.  For when we look to Jesus, we are now dealing with what Martin Luther described as “the revealed God.”  St. Paul put it this way: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

God would have us look to His Son, for in Jesus Christ God has revealed His loving heart in a way that puts the questions in their proper place.  The “Why?” questions don’t cease to exist, but having seen the love of God for us revealed in Jesus Christ we are able to trust God and entrust those questions to Him.  We are able to find strength and peace in Christ to meet the challenges of life.  The Collect of the Day for the Fifth Sunday of Easter that was prayed in church on the Sunday right after storm spoke to this in a very striking way.  It said, “O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will.  Grant that we may love what you have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.”

In the face of the “Why?” questions, we focus on the “Where?” question each week.  We meet the answer to the “Where” question each Sunday as Christ comes to us through the Means of Grace in the Divine Service.  Here God gives the assurance of His love and care.  Here he strengthens us in the faith so that whatever the circumstances we are able to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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