Where is God in our adversities? If God is a good God, where is he in the storms of life? Why does God allow bad things to happen, even to his children? Habakkuk notes that everywhere there is oppression, murder, bribery, and injustice. He asks God what exactly he is doing about this. Jeremiah is equally perplexed. He asks God: “Why do the wicked prosper?” “Why are those who are treacherous so happy?” The obvious conclusion is that God does not care.
What does God know?
The LORD said to Moses: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” (Exodus 3:7). But can God, being God, really know what we are going through? Job says: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1). Can God in heaven know what we are going through on earth? Can President Goodluck Jonathan really know the true condition of the man in the street?
When Queen Mary Antoinette of France was told the people were rioting because they were hungry and had no bread to eat, she replied glibly: “Let them eat cake.” Similarly, is God not too distant and too aloof to know or care about the ordeal of men on Earth? If he really cares, why does he not do something about it, after all he is God?
The Bible provides an enigmatic answer. On the cross of Calvary: “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46). This plaintive cry still reverberates around the world today. Nowhere is it more poignant than in crime and corruption-ridden Nigeria. It is the cry of agony of millions upon millions; overwhelmed by a country where truth has fallen in the streets and evil reigns supreme.
Does God forsake?
How are we to understand Jesus’ cry to God on the cross? It is easily understood in Psalm 22, where it came from David. But how come Jesus makes the exact same complaint against God? Does God forsake his sons? Does God even forsake man? Should Jesus, of all people, not know any better? Surely Jesus knows God does not forsake his people. Why then does he make such an outrageous accusation against God?
Jesus’ cry contradicts the promise of God. God says in Isaiah: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” (Isaiah 41:17-18).
Indeed, when Jesus himself was asleep in a boat during a storm, his disciples woke him up asking: “Don’t you even care that we are going to perish?” Jesus asked them why they were so fearful. He chastised them for being of little faith. Then he rebuked the storm and the sea became calm. But then on the cross, Jesus himself asked God more or less the same nagging question: “Don’t you even care that I am suffering here?” “Why are you allowing me to go through this ordeal?” What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?
Fellowship of man’s sufferings
Jesus repetition of the cry of David on the cross is the greatest identification of God with man in the history of humanity. By this cry, God in Christ entered totally into the mainstream of the human experience. God himself cried out on man’s behalf for salvation and redemption. Man in Christ cried out to God in desperation, in confusion, and in disillusionment: “Why, if you are God; why, since you are God, are you allowing this calamity to happen to us?”
In effect, on the cross of Calvary, God in Christ validated human suffering. God entered into the fellowship of our sufferings. God became our brother in adversity. And God in Christ himself became our advocate. Jesus became our lawyer, and he presented our case eloquently against God.
“Why God? Why do you say you love us and then allow us to go through so much pain and suffering? Why do you sit back and watch as we get raped, tortured, robbed, killed, and destroyed every day? Why are you the Almighty, nevertheless you allow wars to happen, earthquakes to destroy, diseases and plagues to ravage? Why have you forsaken your people? Don’t you even care that we are perishing here every day?”
These questions have led many to atheism. Many are convinced God does not exist because of the havoc they see in the world. Some insist that although he exists, he only took part in creation and, thereafter, went on sabbatical. Some are simply disappointed and angry with God. They were once believers but are not any longer. Others are very bitter against God. Thus, Naomi complained in the scriptures: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:20).
“Why,” they reason, “should we serve a God who allows our children to die of sickle-cell anemia?” “Why should we bother with a God who watches while we are raped and violated?” “What is the point of a merciful heavenly Father who stands by as our husbands marry other wives; as our sons contract AIDS even at the dentists; as our brothers and sisters die prematurely through human error?”
But oh, how God cares! He cares so deeply that when you read the prophets, you get the distinct image of God as a mother-hen so worried and concerned about the wrong choices his children keep making that he shouts himself hoarse reproving us. God begs man, he cajoles, he pleads and he threatens: “Please choose life, so that you and your seed may live.” But systematically and procedurally we choose death. Then we rant and rage against God when we are dying.
The nature of this world, a place of sin, death and destruction, is not the making of God, but the making of men. We disobey God; we transgress against him; we refuse to follow his loving commandments; therefore we reap what we sow. Isaiah says: “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But our iniquities have separated us from our God; and our sins have hidden His face from us, so that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Nevertheless, the Lord would not forsake his people. God had a plan and this plan was in motion from the foundation of the world. God was not just interested in comforting man. That would have been too trite and impersonal. In the person of Jesus Christ, God was first and foremost determined to share in man’s ordeal. Therefore, Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
To be continued…
By Femi Aribisala