Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Going Beyond Thinking…Where is God?

Written by: on October 18, 2013

In reading, Theology: A Very Short Introduction, I found myself saying: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”  Yes, because David Ford not only challenges and encourages me to think deeply about theology but also challenges me to go beyond thinking.  Ford challenges me “to move from thinking about the discipline of theology into direct theological thinking, beginning with God.”[1]

So, what about God?  I have been a Christian for over 36 years.  But it was about 11 years ago that I began to question the existence of God.  Is God real?  What happens when the God you once considered active is silent?   Now, I believe in a God who is merciful and forgiving, love and light, joy and peace.  I believe in a God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.  But where is this God in the midst of our personal suffering?  Where is this God in a world where suffering touches everyone in some form or fashion?

I remember reading the book, Night by Elie Wiesel.   In his book Wiesel writes of the hanging of two men and a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp which he and all the other prisoners were forced to witness.  “All eyes were on the child… ‘Where is God?  Where is He?’  Someone behind me asked…the two adults were no longer alive…but the third rope was still moving:  the child too light, was still breathing…he remained for more than half an hour lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes…Behind me, I heard the same man asking:  “For God’s sake, where is God?”  And from within me, I heard a voice answer:  “Where He is?  This is where—hanging here from this gallows…”[2]

Where is God when one suffers?  Is God close to us when we suffer?  Is our suffering close to God?  These are questions we ask ourselves and these are also questions frequently asked in the Scriptures.  According to the prophet Isaiah, God is sharing in the suffering of the people:  “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you.  In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.” [3]

A brief moment of abandonment and hiding can seem like an eternity for a person who is suffering.   This was my reality that led me to ask the question, “Is God real?”   Ford outlines the theological implications of five basic forms of prayer.  He acknowledges petition as being the fourth form.  He states that “in the Bible there are very direct encouragements, even commands, to believers to ask God for what they desire, with promises that requests will be answered.”[4]  Yet, what happens when that request is not answered?   What happens when you ask God to heal a loved one, who is devoted to God, who serves God, who is a follower of Jesus and still does not get healed?  Why is God silent?  Does God not care?  Is God real?  These were questions I asked and struggled with when my husband died.

One day while sitting on the floor with tears running down my face and looking through photos, I realized that my husband, who was also a pastor, and I never had our picture taken together in our clergy robes.  Perhaps this is not significant, but when you realize that that is no longer a possibility or even a reality, someone is to blame.  And for me that someone was God.  Yet, how could I blame a God who I no longer believed was close to me or real?    Three days later, there was a knock on my front door.  It was the mail carrier delivering a package.  When I opened the package and pulled out the content in the package, in my hands I held a photograph of my husband and me wearing our clergy robes!  How could this be?  This was a manifestation of God!

God is closed to us in our suffering.  And we can see this throughout the Old Testament that the God who suffered with his people rooted in Israel’s experience.  “And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came to God…I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”[5]

God heard, God saw, God knew my suffering.  These verbs are powerful for they describe God as one who sees the suffering from the inside, a God who is internally related to the suffering of the people, a God who enters completely into the suffering situation and makes it His own.

Theological thinking allows me to question, seek meaning, and explore intellectually which then helps to renew my hope in Christ and strengthen my trust in God.  Questioning God is not a practice that is looked upon favorably in many Christian communities.   Yet, in the midst of my suffering it gave me freedom and a renewed trust in God.  Because of this my faith and trust in God is constantly being challenged, rethought, reimagined, expanded and enriched.   Theological thinking takes God out of the “box” and allows “God to act; Jesus to appear as the content of God’s act; and people to be transformed through the Spirit that comes from the risen Jesus.”[6]  It is a practice that regularly leads to transformations of one’s horizon and unimagined surprises, not least in one’s way of thinking about God and, inseparably, about oneself, others, and the created world.”[7]

Ford asks the question, “Can we imagine God concerned with all the details of individual lives?”[8]   Yes, I can!

[1] David F. Ford, Theology:  A Very Short Introduction.  (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999) pg. 30

[2] Wiesel, Elie.  Night.  (Hill and Wang:  New York, 2006) pgs. 64-65

[3] New Revised Standard Version (Isaiah 54:7-8)

[4] David F. Ford,  Theology:  A Very Short Introduction.  (Oxford University Press:  New York, 1999) pg. 53

[5] New Revised Standard Version (Exodus 2:23; 3:7-8)

[6] David F. Ford,  Theology:  A Short Introduction.  (Oxford University Press:  New York, 1999) pg. 91

[7] Ibid., pg. 48

[8] Ibid., pg. 53

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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