Where is God in the Midst of Tragedy?

Posted: May 21, 2013 in Church, Old Testament, Theology and Faith
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I have been thinking this morning about something Dr. Terrence Fretheim said last Fall.  He was talking about God’s activity in the world, saying this: “God always acts directly but always through agents.”  It reminds me of Exodus 2 where the Hebrews are groaning under the weight of their enslavement in Egypt.  Suffering is their lot in life, it seems.  And the question might very easily be, “Where is God?”  The text says that “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exodus 2:24-25). 

“Concerned” is too soft of a word.  God “knows” their suffering.  God suffers even as the Hebrews suffer!  God is present in the midst of suffering!  The next scene flashes to an old man sitting in the desert watching sheep.  He’s been doing this for forty years.  He used to be a prince of Egypt… now, he’s prince of sheep (not exactly a CV builder).  It is in the mundane routine that the shepherd, Moses, notices something out of place.  A bush on fire.  That’s not so out of place, but the fact that it is not consumed is surprising.  Moses watches the bush because… well, because what else do you watch in a desert?  After watching for some time, he notices that the bush isn’t being consumed.  So, he gets up to go and take a look to see why it isn’t being consumed. 

It is at this moment that Moses hears God calling him to go back to Egypt as God’s representative.  God will use Moses, flaws and all, to “draw out” God’s people from Egypt.  “God acts directly but always through agents.”  Moses’ seeing and moving toward the burning bush is the opportunity for God to use Moses, even as God has seen and knows the Hebrews’ suffering and is moving toward them and toward their redemption from slavery.  Moses will be the vessel by which God’s presence is manifested in a desperate situation.

The question of God’s presence in the midst of suffering is still one we ask today.  With the recent tragedy due to the great destruction by tornadoes, we may very well wonder where God is at.  Yet, I can’t help but remember this story and recognize that God suffers with us.  God sees, hears, and knows our suffering… and has not abandoned us.  Rather, like Moses, God calls waiting to see who will respond so that we might be sent as a tangible sign of God’s presence in the midst of suffering.  “God always acts directly but always through agents.”

  1. Dorian Christensen says:

    The burning bush has been a popular symbol among Reformed churches since it was first adopted by the Huguenots ( French Calvinists ) in 1583 during its 12th National Synod . The French motto Flagror non consumor – I am burned but not consumed – suggests the symbol was understood of the suffering church that nevertheless lives. However, given the fire is a sign of God’s presence, he who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) the miracle appears to point to a greater miracle: God in grace is with his covenant people and so they are not consumed.

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