The past month has been a hard one for North Americans. We have been assaulted in the real and virtual worlds. The steady drumbeat of natural disasters. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have pummeled several Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico, and several US States. The enormous earthquakes in Mexico have left hundreds trapped and dead, including in downtown Mexico City. In addition, most Americans and Canadians have had sensitive information stolen in two successful hacks of Equifax, putting them at serious risk of identity theft.
Whether hurricanes or theft, either way we can feel betrayed. We work to build the lifestyles that we have, but then suddenly see everything we worked for ripped away. All our work seems like it was for nothing. Our sense of security, of feeling like the value of our work can be sustained, collapses.
In the face of such massive breaches of security, it becomes easy to despair. As numerous people have told reporters, there is not much you can do when you face these sorts of disasters. You try your best to prepare, but ultimately you have to wait and see what comes of it. You wait for the storm to blow over or for the identity theft to strike, and then you head out to see the damage.
Questioning God, even yelling at God in anger, is not wrong.
This is a maddening position for many of us. Waiting in a helpless state is not what we want to do, especially when we will almost certainly find damage when the waiting is over.
Of course, we don’t need a major disaster to strike to feel this way. Every day, many of us in the human family are put in this helpless, waiting position by virtue of illness, broken relationships, or any of a number of other things that remind us that our lives are out of our hands.
It is in moments like this that it is easy to ask where God is. Or, in the words of the ancient riddle, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” It is even possible that we will lash out in anger toward God.
Questioning God, even yelling at God in anger, is not wrong. Just prior to the famous scene of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is confronted by Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary. Both of them say the same thing when he arrives at the tomb: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Crying out in pain and anger to God is not about denying or rejecting God, it is about being honest with God.
Their cry to Jesus is a pointed one—Jesus, it is your fault. You could have stopped this terrible tragedy. You did it for others. But you didn’t help us. You left us to struggle and feel deep pain.
The cry of Martha and Mary is one of anger and anguish. It is also the cry of faith. They really do believe Jesus is powerful enough to stop tragedy. They cry out to him because they have not given up on that, even in the midst of their suffering.
Crying out in pain and anger to God is not about denying or rejecting God, it is about being honest with God. It is about recognizing that we don’t have any power to do anything else, so we pour all our frustration, fear, pain, and despair on the only One that might be able to do something about it. Even if we don’t really believe in God, or if we do and we don’t really pray, we are opening ourselves to God stepping in when we are most vulnerable. We know we need help and we are ready to receive it wherever we can.
In a day when we all feel vulnerable the last thing we as Christians should do is minimize or silence the cries for something or someone to step in and end the suffering.
In a day when we all feel vulnerable the last thing we as Christians should do is minimize or silence the cries for something or someone to step in and end the suffering. In fact, we shouldn’t act like we are above crying out the same way. We are just as in need of God mending our broken hearts. In truth, we have more in common with those crying out to God in such ways than we might sometimes admit. And, by admitting it, as well as by admitting our trust in the midst of our pain, we have a faith worth hearing about.
Evangelism is not about a superior person helping the poor, lesser people who can’t deal with life. It is about showing and explaining how the good news of Jesus Christ meets us in the midst of our daily routines of life. Showing people that we can trust and hope in the God of Jesus Christ even when—like Martha and Mary—we feel like He’s absent, will mean far more than our offering platitudes while pretending we have never had doubts or pains.