"Where was God when that terrible suffering happened to me?"
"Where was God when I saw my grandmother suffer and die in such a terrible way?"
"I cried out to God over and over, and nobody came and helped me. Nobody was there. That's why I don't believe in God."
These are the words of many people I've known. During some of the darker times of my life, over a decade of suffering and praying and begging God to help, only to have nothing appear to change, these were my cries. These were my words, my thoughts. This was my anger, my death of faith.
And the truth is, I really don't know the answer in detail. I don't know how to call God to account for his alleged absence when things go wrong, when people die, when suffering lingers like an agonizing dirge.
I could point out the theological fact of God's sovereignty. "God is in control. You can trust Him to turn your pain into something good." This is true, but in the midst of gut-wrenching torment, that is often cold comfort. After all, we've cried out to Him, and it would appear that He turned his back on us... or simply doesn't exist. It seems unfathomable that God could have good reasons for allowing it to happen. Even though a transcendent God, by definition, could have reasons that we could not understand or see or think of, we still don't really like this.
I could take the route we find in the book of Job. When Job finally reached the end of his rope, he called God to give an account for all the suffering and loss and injustice he had endured. It felt so wrong, so unfair. God must give an account! But when God showed up and began to turn the questioning toward Job, suddenly Job was humbled and began to worship. God's presence was enough for him, and he saw his rightful place in comparison to God's transcendence.
But really, if we want to know where God was when that terrible thing happened, when we begged and begged and pleaded with Him to relieve us of our agony and nothing happened, we need only look at the cross. Where was God? Hanging on the cross.
I'm not asking you to fully understand it. I'm not asking you to even like it -after all, it goes completely against all of our expectations of how a "god" should handle things. That sentiment is certainly nothing new. So no, I'm just asking you to look. I'm asking you to look at the cross, where Jesus of Nazareth -the one called "the Christ"- hung and died.
That, ultimately, is your answer. It is God's statement to the world, His message, His Word in human flesh. In a kind of eerie silence, God gives no answer to our demand for answers, no details as to why, for our specific situation, He allowed it to be so. He offers no apologies or justifications. The God-man just hangs there, like a lamb led to slaughter. Yet this gruesome event communicates more to us than language can capture or intellect describe.
In the darkest hour, when it seemed God was most distant, He was more near and more invested in humanity's plight than ever. This is the paradox of the cross. It is both our indictment and our salvation. And it is where our demand that God be what we decide is exposed for what it is. Our demands and claims against God are silenced by the silence of heaven in that solemn, sacred moment. We see that our imperious hands put Him there.
In one act, the God of the universe who gave us breath and owes us nothing, declared to us, "I am with you, I suffer beside you, and this is how I chose to save you all. On my terms, not yours. By the shedding of truly innocent blood. This is what had to be done for you, for you are filthy, stained by your arrogance. Yet by this I will make you mine and, one day, set everything right."
And on the third day, when the Son of Man rose, mankind's new beginning rose with Him.