Is God present in tragedy?

So…had a few emails about my favorable reference to Piper’s take on the Minneapolis bridge tragedy. One of the most surprising things about getting them is that I had no idea that more than a handful of people were even reading this blog!

I know Piper has gotten some flack, from people I respect, about his position. This post, for example, stirred up a conversation in blogdom about how sovereign God is, how we should look at the world and its evils. I always find these discussions interesting; I don’t always find that people are usually interested in really learning, but rather they’re more like “manning the barricades” against ideas that don’t sit well. And I don’t really want this blog to be about that kind of thing. I don’t want to slam at others for “wrongful” views. I don’t want to expend all my energy trying to prove my viewpoint. I want to spend time awestruck at the wonder of the gospel, and considering ways to bring that news more gloriously into our churches and into our lives.

That said, I’ll give a few paragraphs to draw out the view, I think the correct view, that God certainly is sovereignly reigning in the midst of disaster. This is not a viewpoint that simply says, “He’s a God of judgment, and they were wicked people.” This view is not without Biblical support — Jesus’ own response when asked about the tragedy of the falling of the towers of Siloam was “unless you repent, you shall likewise perish.” But even that response was not so much drawing a line from “their evil–>judgment by tower; your evil–>judgment by ____”, so much as it was warning that death and wrath hover above us all apart from repentance, that we are granted the breath in our nostrils with no promise of more, and that after death comes judgment. I do not draw an equals sign between suffering and judgment. Judgment can take many forms, and some of them look to us like God giving us more of what we want (Romans 1). Think it through. God is after our hearts, and idolatry is bondage and destruction.

No, I’ll stand with Job, who was one of the first teachers the Bible gives us. When faced with incredible, unbelievable loss and tragedy, he said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It’s become popular to sing this as a peppy little tune in church today, but we hardly ever know, as we sing, the lament that intertwined around that blessing in the heart of Job. Job’s wife urged him to curse a God who would do this to an innocent man — but note that she, too, believed it was the doing of God. Job’s friends would urge him to repent, because surely God would not do such things to a man who really was innocent — and they too, believe it was God’s doing. Nor can we conclude that they were all primitives who didn’t really understand the way of things; the opening narrative to the book shows us that God instigated the whole thing, for his own purposes — purposes unrevealed to Job. We cannot say the evil events are from Satan alone; although we insist, along with our confessions, that God is not the author of evil, we also insist that he uses even evil in his purposes — hence the cross of Calvary.

The whole “origin of evil” question is for another time; right now I’m simply saying this, along with Thomas Watson: God is always present in the action where evil is; God is not present in the evil where the action is.”

It’s actually greatly comforting. In the worst of tragedies, I can know that I am not abandoned, I’m not on my own. God is here, too. There are no appendixes or exceptions to Psalm 139. There is nowhere I’ll find my life where God is not there.

For those who would insist that God has left certain things to themselves, that his sovereignty does not include mosquitoes and bridges, I’d like to ask: is that comforting to you? Are you comforted by knowing that you have to work through this tragedy on your own, or that God is as saddened as you are by how things turned out?

Asking the question doesn’t prove my position. And I don’t want to caricature the position of those who disagree — many of them are sweet, thoughtful, wonderful Christians whom I dearly love and respect. We all agree on these things: we live in a broken world, and pain is everywhere, and oft-times things simply don’t make sense. We cry out with Job, longing for explanations that often seem completely missing. It hurts, it challenges, it seems unbearable. Rivers of tears run down our faces.

If they don’t, they should.

I find hope in this truth: while I don’t understand, and while I feel if I bear one more sorrow I will break, with me is my Rescuer, who works wondrously in weakness, and writes glory in broken letters and words, who holds me and weeps and encourages and promises — and whose promises cannot fail. The pain is real, and strong, and almost overwhelming; but the Promise has proven stronger throughout all the history of redemption, and the Promiser is with me.

Not in knowledge, but in this Saviour who has died, conquered sin and death, and who lives for me, do I find comfort and peace.

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