Where is God?
We are watching in disbelief and dismay what is going on in Ukraine. So many videos and photos show the devastation that is being wrought on that land and people. For what? We are impressed by the courage of the Ukraine people to continue fighting this David-and-Goliath war. But we cannot help but wonder whether more can be done as the international community tries to help Ukraine without escalating the conflict into a nuclear or world war. In the meantime, so many innocent civilians, who are someone’s moms and dads and sons and daughters, are getting killed amid so much destruction.
Where is God in all this? Maybe you don’t ask such a question. You don’t believe in God. You don’t think that God has anything to do with anything. When bad things happen, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
But I’m certain that this question crosses the minds of those who are directly affected by the absurdity of this war, including the Ukrainian Christians. When reality becomes stranger than fiction in its cruelty and tragedy, people’s search for answers ventures into the realm of religious thought. What do Christians have to say about it, since they believe in an all-good, all-powerful, omnipresent God? How do they deal with it?
C.S. Lewis says, "In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute" (The Problem of Evil).
We cannot know all the complex good that God intends for every evil in the world. God is infinite in His wisdom; our knowledge is limited and our vision is myopic. A holy God hates evil more than any of us, infinitely more. Yet He doesn’t prevent all evils from happening. Why? Because that would be like parents intervening in their child’s life so that he doesn’t face any consequence of his (bad) actions. That will only lead to his demise. If God truly loves us, He must address the cause of our problems, not just our problems. To do that, He must allow the evil in us to manifest itself and awaken us from our “fatal ease.” A recovering alcoholic said that the best thing to do for an alcoholic is to let him wake up in his own vomit.
Not that we will all be serial killers. But if we're honest, we must admit that we all have done something wrong or shameful. But why have we done that? St. Augustine speaks of stealing pears, not for hunger or any other reason but purely for the thrill of stealing! Is he unique? Not quite. Why is it that, when people tell us not to do something, we want to do it more? Our problem is this evil inside of us, which requires God’s redemption!
To redeem us, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this fallen world polluted with evil (by us all). He lived a life of perfect obedience to God and service to others. But what did He get in return? He suffered at the hands of evil men. In the end, He was executed on the cross as if He were the worst criminal! How tragic and evil! As Jesus died on the cross, His disciples ran away and fell into despair. They wondered how God could allow such an evil thing to take place! Where was God? As Alister McGrath pointed out, they could not find God because He was where they never expected Him to be—right there in the most God-forsaken place, hanging on the cross, dying a cursed death for sinners! By subjecting Himself to this evil and rising again from the dead, Jesus transformed a despised symbol of evil (the cross) into a symbol of forgiveness and redemption.
Throughout history, there have been many unspeakable tragedies that made people cry out, “Where is God in this?” It doesn’t have to be a large-scale tragedy like the Jewish Holocaust or the Killing Fields in Cambodia or the war in Ukraine and many other areas in the world. A parent losing her infant child to a rare disease or freak accident cannot help but ask the same question. Who can blame her, and many others like her?
Evil is evil. God hates evil with a passion. Yet, for now, He allows it. But it will not be so always. Evil will be completely done away with on God's appointed day. On that day God will silence all the voices of doubt and protestation by executing His full justice. Until then, God will continue to exploit evil to awaken us to our desperate need for redemption and direct our hearts to Christ, the Redeemer. In Jesus, we have a Redeemer who not only knows what it’s like to suffer evil unjustly but is also able to produce the complex good out of it. Let’s turn to Christ, who alone can transform the temporary evil into eternal good for all those who place trust in Him!