When something horrible happens, whether it is in our own lives or something we see in the media, it is very common for people of faith and people of no faith to ask the same question: “Where is God when bad things happen?”
We ask this question following almost every public tragedy that shocks our sense of comfort and escapes explanation. As a country, we have wrung our hands at the heavens following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the theater shooting in Aurora.
If we look at the wider world, we may wonder what God has done to stop the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We may ask, “Where was God?” when a quarter million people perished during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. And God has not stopped us, as humanity, from inflicting horrible violence upon ourselves through the organized horrors of war and genocide.
We can also examine our personal lives and find circumstances that make us question what we think about God. When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, we can feel that God is not answering our prayers. If a relationship falls apart or a family is broken, we may long for God to make things work out the way we want them to, and when they don’t, we feel forgotten.
As a whole, these sorts of questions and feelings are known to theologians under the term “theodicy.” Theodicy is born of the tension in our beliefs in the “omni” (or “all”) qualities of God: God is all knowing, God is all powerful, and God is all loving.
If God is all loving, why doesn’t God use God’s knowledge and God’s power to show us God’s love by making everything better?
There are no easy answers in the field of theodicy.
In the Christian tradition, we believe God took on human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In this act of love, God communicates to us that God is with us, even to the point of living a human life.
The life of Jesus, as we read about it in the Bible, was a life full of human experiences that we can relate to: birth, relationships, travel, hunger, thirst, rejection, loss, crying and even death.
After a tragedy strikes, whether an act of random violence in America, a destructive disaster in a foreign land or an illness that strikes our own family, we know through the life of Jesus that God knows what we’re going through.
That doesn’t mean God will make everything work out the way we want. But it does mean that God knows our troubles. And, it means that God never leaves or looks away, no matter how horrible something may be in our human existence.
Where is God when bad things happen? God is right there with us.
The Rev. Calob Rundell is the former pastor of Salida United Methodist Church.