Where is God in all the Suffering?
All Will Be Well. This is His Covenant
There are countless tragedies happening in our world today. Where is God? Where is God when bad things happen to innocent children? Where is God when women are abused, raped and killed? Where was God during apartheid?
These are questions which people ask over and over again: the question of God and human suffering.
Every so often this question hits us with a great deal of sadness, as it did lately with the death of a student marching for free education, the earthquakes in Italy, the killing of people in the Syrian civil war, the reign of terror of Boko Haram, the plane crash that wiped out a football team from Brazil, to mention a few.
Millions in the world die of hunger, thousands are injured, hundreds of thousands are homeless, thousands more face disease from lack of proper water, housing, and hygiene. This is the state of our world. This is the state of our country. Where is God in all this? How can our faith help us to understand this?
I recently had the beautiful privilege of spending time in the chapel of the Christian Brothers’ Retreat Centre in Stellenbosch. And there is where I found some assurance of where God is in all of our suffering. In all the suffering of all the people of the world — God is there.
I experienced a deep assurance that God is with us and that God has always been with us throughout the ages.
Two beautiful icons, behind the altar of the chapel, helped me to feel and experience this deep assurance and ultimate consolation that God is with us.
The first icon is about the covenant that God made with Noah (Genesis 9:17). It depicts Noah preparing a thanksgiving sacrifice at dawn when God speaks to him. A gold circle with golden radiations represents God. The dove, sent out by Noah to find dry land, is also a reference to the Holy Spirit, later to descend upon Jesus at his baptism.
In the icon there is also a river with two fish. The Greek word for fish is ichthys, which is also the acronym for “Jesus Christ Son of God Redeemer”. Lastly, there are a few flowers in the icon which depict the rebirth of living things after the flood.
A covenant in the Bible is an understanding, a promise, a specific relationship between God and someone else—a person, a people. Unlike a contract where two parties agree equally, a covenant originates from God and does not depend on the other party. God is the initiator and sustainer of the covenant.
What a beautiful and everlasting privilege it is to experience God’s covenant. God is saying to us: “I promise that I will be there with you, always, I will guide you and protect you and I will always be your strength. I will save you.”
God promises to be all of that to us, even though we do not make a single promise in return. That is what God’s covenant means.
It is beautiful how the old covenant already makes reference to the New Covenant. The covenant which Jesus made at the Last Supper on the eve of his passion and death on the cross, when he said: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.”
And this is what the second icon in the chapel is about. In the icon, the sun is setting in the colours of Noah’s covenant sky. Jesus is in the Upper Room, richly prepared by the “man with the water pitcher”. There are fish on the table. The chalice, the Grail, is filled with wine. The words of consecration of the new and eternal covenant are being spoken. Jesus Christ is a living sign of God’s eternal covenant. He will be with us always.
So where is God when millions are starving, being abused, raped and killed? Where is God with earthquakes, floods, fires, plane crashes?
God is weeping with his people, grieving with them, sitting in sadness beside collapsed buildings and debris.
He was there when it happened, and he is still here. He does not offer a rescue like Batman would, but we can be sure that he will redeem everything that was lost. In his own time, everything will be made new, and it will be good, just like God intended it. He will bring peace where there was sadness, and all will be well.
This is his covenant.