Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean-even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! (Psalm 139:7-10, Common English Bible).
We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
It was not one of my favorite movies. It was what one friend of mine called “a date movie.” I will accept that description. It was a date movie masquerading as a war movie. I am speaking of the 2001 film, Pearl Harbor. Personally I am a much bigger fan of the 1965 John Wayne film, In Harm’s Way. I think that movie is one of the greatest films of all time, but I digress.
While overall I was not a fan of Pearl Harbor, there was one scene in the movie I really did enjoy. Well enjoy probably isn’t the right word for it and it really wasn’t so much of a scene. I found great meaning in a part of the movie where film clips (most were not original footage) flashed on the screen. Music played as much of the background. These clips showed the carnage left in the wake of the Japanese attack. There were bodies mangled and in places we wouldn’t expect to see them. There was blood. There was property damage and so much more. It was grizzly, but that is not why this part of the movie meant so much to me.
One of those clips was of a priest wearing robe, stole and chasuble. He was standing in waist-deep water with bodies floating around him. Again, it was a pretty grizzly scene. It appeared the priest was saying last rites over the dead. After a few more clips (I think it would have been better and had more impact had it been said during the priest clip), a voice from off stage said, “Where was God?”
In times like Pearl Harbor, in times like 9/11, in times like the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole it becomes so easy for us to ask this basic and yet difficult question. When things seem to fall apart around us, it becomes really easy for us to ask, “Where is God?”
In those situations, it is really pretty easy to say, and even to understand, God didn’t do those things. God gives all of us free will and in each case and so many more like them, people, creations of God, used that free will to bring death and harm on other creations of God.
Considerably harder to understand is when natural disaster strikes. Where was God when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti last week. Where was God when a tornado wiped out a church on Easter Sunday several years ago. It even opens the doors for some poor theology that said after Hurricane Katrina, “The hurricane was God’s vengeance on New Orleans.”
I can’t explain it all away. What I do know is, none of it is God and God grieves with us when such things happen. I also know that when God created the world certain natural laws were put in place. Some of that is how storms work. When the ocean gets too hot nature has a very effective way of cooling it down, a hurricane. Could it be that the rise might be on us because of what we have done the the environment? Could it be that Haiti suffered so last week because we who know about good building practices in hurricane-prone regions have failed to take the time to teach the Haitians about such things and with stronger buildings more lives might have been saved?
When I was in seminary we would sometimes look at case studies. In the discussion the question would inevitably come, “Where do you see God in all this?”
The psalmist reminds us in today’s lesson that there is no place where we can go and escape the presence of God. The theological term is “omnipresent.” God is omnipresent. God is here with us, God is all around us. When tragedy happens, be it man-made tragedy or natural disaster, God is present with us.
Further, the question we were often asked in seminary I think, in light of the A.W. Tozer quote above, falls short. God is even closer than we think. God is closer than our soul and nearer than our thoughts.
Friends, that means, right now, wherever you are, whatever you may be doing, God is with you and God is closer than you think.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Grace and Peace,
Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved