I posted a prayer on my Facebook wall I had seen from a friend the day of the Sandyhook shooting. Pretty soon after I had shared the prayer on my wall a childhood friend commented something like, “Oh yeah? Where was God?” I didn’t know how to respond so I didn’t. I knew that I wasn’t going to solve the problem of evil on my Facebook wall and I didn’t want to get into some type of theological debate the day of the tragedy. I just wanted to pray.
I have thought about the question quite a bit since then. Where is God? It’s a question that comes up often when there is tragedy. It’s a question of how God could allow something like the tragedy to even happen. I don’t have the answer; I think evil and tragedy are a mystery and no one has the answer to that question. But I have a different question that I think is related and gets to the heart of the matter – What is God like?
I used to think that God was unaffected by anything. Cold and unfeeling, God was removed from our lives and just looked on as humanity suffered. God was untouchable. But now I believe that God is better understood as a vulnerable and even suffering God much more than the removed and unfeeling God I believed in for most of my life.
The shift in my thinking came when I understood the Incarnation a little more. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “God moved into the neighborhood.” Another way to say it is that God enfleshed Godself. As I understood the Christian belief that to see Jesus was to see God, I started to shift in how I viewed what God was like. No longer was God removed and unaffected in my thinking; God started to become personally acquainted with the human experience. I read about Jesus weeping over his friend who died and then I realized that I was reading about God who was weeping over a friend who died. God told a woman caught in adultery that she wasn’t condemned. God compassionately and graciously loved all the “notorious sinners” of the day and healed the lame and the blind. God even felt God-forsaken on the cross.
This is the Incarnation. And this is what we are journeying towards during Advent. Frederick Buechner says it beautifully:
"The Word became flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. . . God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God … who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven."
Advent is a time of hope and anticipation as we expectantly relive the experience of Christ entering our deeply wounded and beautiful world. You may be suffering right now and going through a hard time. You may feel confused, even God-forsaken. But you are not alone. God is not way out there somewhere. God is with you. God is with me. God is with us.
May we be filled with hope as we experience God coming into our lives, not as a removed and untouchable God, but as a God who is deeply affected by our personal pain and that of the world, who enters the world as vulnerable as you can be, “born with a skull you could crush one-handed.” We may not have the answer for why there is pain and tragedy, but may we be filled with hope as we come to see how God has entered our pain and tragedy and travels with us through it on the journey of salvation.
Jamie lives with his wife, Lauren, and their two children, Rowan and Phoebe, in Huntsville Alabama. Jamie is a Postulant for Holy Orders and will be attending seminary this upcoming fall.