I have been preparing for a series of talks that I am to give to a group of Christian ministers of various denominations later this month on the subject of "finding God where you are". When I agreed to the task I felt that I it would be a simple matter, then the magnitude of this Asian dissaster and the incessant chanting of the crowd "Where is God?" has made it clear that my task will be more difficult...or will it?
It struck me this morning that if I believed in the God of the philosophers as Abraham Joshua Heschel used to term the god that most people argue with than this would indeed be the case. But the God of the Scriptures, "the God of Old" as one modern Jewish author has termed God is not a distant God and as a Christian that is the God that I worship this Sunday.
Start with the cross. Then think God and you'll see that all your distant god arguments start to dwindle. The Nancy Grifth song "From a Distance"..."God is watching us from a distance" while beautiful is actually heretical. Try this is on for size...
Philip says to Jesus: "Show us the Father."
Jesus tells Philip:"He who sees me (Jesus) has seen the Father."
Elie Wiesel told a story that I quote in my Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Fulton Sheen book about a young boy being hung on the gallows between two older men in the concentration camp. The old men shout political slogans as they quickly die. The young innocent lingers on and says nothing. The inmates of the camp are forced to watch the whole ordeal as they march back and forth in front of the gallows. Someone in the crowd cries out, "Where is God now?" Wiesel tells of watching the young childs eyes as he slowly dies. "Where is God now?" the person screams again. Wiesel says something that Christians immediately recognize differently than the meaning that Wiesel has in saying them: "There he is hanging on that gallows." I think that for Wiesel that in the death of this child any hope that God existed was extinguished. But for the Christian there is an immediate recognition of the child as a Christ figure who like the early followers of Jesus the Son of God all met cruel deaths that were similar to the death of their Lord. In the young man God was being hung.
Chistianity in its good moments does not keep God at a distance. It recognizes God has come to dwell with us. It also remembers that the Lord said that the Kingdom suffers violence so it is not surprised when the innocent suffer--in fact I think it might be fair to say that we should be more surprised when we don't suffer.
In the end Jesus told his disciples that there would be two groups of people that all of humanity would be divided into the sheep and the goats. The difference between the two groups would be that one recognized God in the face of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, the naked, the imprisoned, the infirmed while the other group did not. The surprise of the other group is marked no doubt by their search for God in the distance, "When did we see you Lord?"
It is good that in response to this disaster that so many are responding with heartfelt generousity to help those who have suffered. In doing so we are helping God who is not off in the distance plotting the next disaster but clings to the wood of the cross as the storm seeks to destroy him yet again.