As of Easter weekend this year, 184 nations had felt the power of this marauding virus that snatches breath, crushes lungs, and kills indiscriminately. Thousands have died and many thousands more are ill. We can pore over the statistics all we like, examining its lethality compared to other pathogens and comforting ourselves as we explain its comparative benignity. But when it is your son or daughter who has died or your spouse who is gone, “comparative” is meaningless and statistics comfortless. Forget about where it falls on the scale of malignity, murder, and mayhem, this thing kills. We may boast of our great might, vast intelligence, incredible accomplishments, and limitless abilities, but it doesn’t take much to remind us that, in reality, we are “earthen vessels”; “jars of clay”; “potsherds of the earth,” dwelling “in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before (as easy as) the moth?” (Job 4:19).
Where is God in all of this? Does God have a responsibility to deliver us from all our problems, whenever we demand it? Apparently, the world thinks so. Amid the seven questions that were asked by the writer of Psalm 42, there are two (actually the same one repeated twice) that unbelievers threw at him: “Where is thy God?” This same vituperation was heard in the words hurled at the Lord Jesus at Calvary, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:34). A world that gives very little thought to God, and often questions His very existence, is quite quick to accuse Him of not intervening when something goes wrong. It is akin to setting off numerous, fiery explosions in our home, building barriers to hinder fire engines from reaching us, and then blaming the fire company for not saving the house. Sin, not God, has consigned us to living in a world that is chaotic, unfair, and hazardous.
Some Jewish survivors of the Holocaust said that during their nightmarish experiences in the death camps, the seeming lack of response on God’s part led to their abandoning their “faith.” Rather than seeing the Holocaust as a proof of the terrible presence of sin in the world, they misinterpreted it as a proof of the total absence of God. But sin is not merely external; it is within every heart. We sin against God and then want God to save us from the results of our sin. If angels understand the Aristotelian laws of logic, they must be totally appalled at and bemused (certainly not “amused”) by human beings.
So where is God? There is, of course, a theological answer to that question. Numerous times we are reminded that He is in Heaven: “Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Ps 115:3). “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few”(Eccl 5:2). “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens” (Lam 3:41).
Where is God? Seven times, in the Book of Revelation, John repeats this description of God and His Son:
- Rev 4:2, “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.”
- Rev 4:9, “And … those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, Who liveth for ever and ever.”
- Rev 4:10, “The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne …”
- Rev 5:1, “And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.”
- Rev 6:16 “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb”
- Rev 7:15, “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
- Rev 19:4, “And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.”
“In the heavens” and “on the throne” – this is the language of sovereignty (“sovereignity,” as our highly-respected over-seas cousins prefer). This is a truth that is frightening to the unconverted and one against which, historically, anti-theists have fiercely fought. That there might be a God, above them, with full power and authority, to Whom they are accountable, is a truth that cannot be countenanced. One reason is that wherever on earth – and throughout history – we have seen a person with sovereign power – King, Czar, Caesar, Shah, Emperor, Khan – he almost always wielded that power arbitrarily, capriciously, and cruelly. But believers rest in the wonderful assurance that the One Who is Almighty is not only a Faithful Creator and gracious God, but He is our loving Heavenly Father. Whatever comes into our life – whatever it may be – it must first meet His approval and conform to this inviolable rule which He has established for each of His children: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Not all the things that happen to us are “good”; but, says Paul, “we know,” that they will “work together” for good.
“Dothan” occurs in only two Bible Passages. Gen 37:17, “Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan,” and 2 Ki 6:13, “And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan.” In Genesis, when Joseph came to Dothan, his brothers ripped the coat from his back and threw him into a pit, intending to kill him. Where was God? In 2 Kings, when an army came to Dothan to capture Elisha, God defended His servant and “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” Where was God? He was as much with Joseph in the midst of his anguish as He was with Elisha in the midst of the angels.
In November 1839, during an attempt to bring the Gospel to the island of Erromango, (part of the New Hebrides Islands), the missionaries John Williams and James Harris were clubbed and killed and eaten by cannibals. Where was God? Twenty years later, John G. Paton, following the noble example of John Williams, went to preach the Gospel in the New Hebrides. One night, he and his wife, alone in their hut, felt a deep burden to pray; they got down on their knees, remaining there for hours. Unknown to them, a band of natives had surrounded the hut, intending to attack and kill them. No attack came. Years later, when the chief who was behind that aborted attempt had trusted Christ, he told Paton about that night. Paton remembered it, remembered praying, and asked why they never attacked. The chief said it was because of the “tall shining men with swords surrounding your hut.” Paton said there were no guards outside his hut. “No,” the chief insisted, “they were there. My warriors were terrified and refused to attack.” Where was God? He was as much with Williams and Harris encircled by cannibals as He was with Paton and his wife surrounded by angels; just as in Acts 12, when He was with James as the soldiers led him out to be executed and with Peter as the angel led him out to be liberated.
So, “Where is God?” He is on His throne, causing or allowing or redirecting so that all things work after “the counsel of His own will.” He is in our hearts, assuring us of His love. He is by our side, controlling, preserving, protecting, and guiding His own for His glory. We may not have all the answers explaining “the mystery of human suffering,” but there is no mystery as to Who is in control. We know what He has promised; and we know how the story ends. The Lamb is going to win. The Lord is going to reign. The Savior is going to have His redeemed people by His side. Forever and ever, we will be with Him, and He will be with us. That is, after all, the meaning of His wonderful name “Emmanuel.”
“God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).