Many of you would have read the book “Where is God when it Hurts”, by Philip Yancey. This morning, I want to do some thing unconventional and start my sermon by reading from Yancey’s book. After carefully and systematically analyzing the issue of pain and suffering and the biblical answers to the issue, Yancey concludes his book as follows
Where is God when it hurts?
He has been there from the beginning designing a pain system that , even in the midst of a fallen world, still bears the stamp of his genius and equips us for life in this planet.
He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward him.
With great restraint, He watches this rebellious planet live on, in mercy allowing the human project to continue in it’s self guided way.
He lets us cry out, like Job, in loud fit of anger against him, blaming him for a world he spoiled
He allies himself with the poor and suffering founding a kingdom titled in their favor. He stoops to conquer
He promises supernatural help top nourish the spirit, even if our physical suffering goes unrelieved.
He has joined us. He has hurt and bled and cried and suffered. He has dignified for all the time those who suffer, by sharing their pain.
He is with us now, ministering to us through his spirit and through the members of his body who are commissioned to bear us up and relieve our suffering for the sake of the head.
He is waiting, gathering the armies of good. One day he will unleash them, and the world will see one last terrifying moment of suffering before the full victory is ushered in. Then God will create for us a new, incredible world. Ands pain shall be no more.
This book is about pain and suffering. Even if we have not had situations like the ones described in that book, I am sure each one of us sitting here have asked at least once in our life time, Where is God? Generally we ask this question when things are not going well. We hardly have time to think about Him when things are going well isn’t it. Even in the bible, there are many instances where people have asked this question, to one another and to God himself. There are billions of people out there in the world who ask that question even today. I am also sure that all of us, sitting in this church know the answer very well. To regular church goers, the question is a rhetorical one. The answer is not a secret. Hence I will not attempt to answer that question. I will try and reinforce the answer and then try to look at what it really means to us, in our day to day life, in our thought and actions.
Throughout the old testament God has been telling people that He is with us. He told it to Moses, He told it to Joshua, He told it to many others Gideon, Amos, Jeremiah etc etc. He has been calling people to come back to Him. However, the rebellious people did not listen or did not want to listen. Then God put his last plan for salvation of mankind into action. That is the Gospel story. John starts his Gospel narrative by establishing Christ’s identity, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1:1-4. After establishing Christ’s identity, John goes on to confirm that God Dwelt among us . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 14. This was the ultimate proof that God is with us. God could do no more to prove that He is with us.
So, for people who do not know that God is with us, we have many things to say. We have many proofs to give them. But how about us. How about us, who know that God is with us? Do our behaviour indicate this truth? Do we live our lives as if God is with us? That is the question that I would like us to ponder about.
Let us look at some of the things that we do.
- Some of us behave as if God does not know what we are doing. This is like the Ostrich behavior. The storyis that Ostriches bury their head in sand when threatened. The story is false of course, they actually do not do that. Many of us behave in a manner that gives the impression that God will not notice certain things we do. Well there is bad news for us there. The fact is that God knows everything. Everything. Psalm 139:2-5 says
You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.
God knows everything. What is our response to this fact that God knows everything? We could react in two ways.
- There is an interesting plea that Job makes to God. Job 7:16-19 . “I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, For my days are but a breath. “What is man, that You should exalt him, That You should set Your heart on him, That You should visit him every morning, And test him every moment? How long? Will You not look away from me, And let me alone till I swallow my saliva? We could be like Job and feel disturbed that God does not let us be by ourselves even for a split second to swallow our own saliva. That is one response.
- Or we could feel secure and safe because our shepherd knows everything about us. John describes the calling of Nathaniel to ministry in John 1:45-51. Nathaniel was a skeptic and did not believe that anything good could come from Nazareth. But when Jesus surprises him by revealing to him that he knows all about him, Nathaniel gets converted. Can we be like Nathaniel, and rest comforted in the knowledge that God knows everything about us? Can we be like Jeremiah who completely trusts that since God knows him, no harm can be done to him by his enemies. (Jer 12:3)
- The second thing that we try to do some times is to run away from God, try to hide from God. Many people have tried it in the past. Adam and Eve tried it (Gen 3:8) , Jonah tried it (Jonah 1:3). Jacob earned his PhD in running away ever since he deceived his father on the advice of his mother, till he finally had to wrestle with God. (Genesis Ch 27 to Ch 32). Many of us some times behave as if God is inside the church and once we are out, we are not in the presence of God. There again, we have bad news. Psalm 139: 7-12 teaches us :“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” God says through Jeremiah “Can anyone hide out in a corner where I can’t see him?” God’s Decree. “Am I not present everywhere, whether seen or unseen?” God’s Decree. (Jer 23:24) The message is very clear, there is no escaping God’s presence. We can ignore it, we can behave as if it was not there, we can resist it, we can fight against it, but the presence of God is never going to go away from us.
Here again, we could respond in two ways.
- This could be a disturbing fact for us. Disturbing because, this knowledge will force us to change the way we live. This forces us to lead an upright life, no matter what. It forces us to lead a Christian life outside the four walls of the church. It forces us to apply biblical principles in our day to day life. This knowledge removes the separation between the secular and the sacred. It removes the fence between our week day life and our week end life. Yes it could be very disturbing.
- Or it could be comforting. Comforting that God searches us out when we are in trouble. Comforting that God knows our needs even before we know about it. Comforting that when we are lost He will come looking for us. Truly comforting that I need not worry, because His presence is always with me. We can feel comforted in the fact that God has a plan and purpose for us.
So, that is the message for us this morning. God dwells with us. That is truth. Undeniable, unquestionable, unavoidable, timeless truth. The question that we have to ponder over is, how are we reflecting that truth in our day to day lives? How are we demonstrating that truth in our behaviors? How are we communicating that truth to others through our words, actions and thoughts?
Let us pray.