To say Easter is significant for Christians is an understatement. Easter is the crux of all of Christianity: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:17).
The words of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, are fitting indeed: “Senseless acts like these in places that people would expect to be at their safest are truly horrifying.”
It is this sentiment, “people would expect to be at their safest,” that gives credence to the plight of atheism: if God is all good, then He should stop evil; if God is all powerful, then He can stop evil; the presence of evil (like the Sri Lanka bombings), therefore, seems to mean God is either not all good or not all powerful (if He exists at all).
This quandary was recently highlighted in a NYT opinion piece by Peter Atterton and identifies a problem for the Sri Lanka bombings. Where was God during Easter?
If God is all good He would have prevented 200 innocent casualties. If God is all powerful He could have stopped the dozen-plus suicide bombers. So where was God?
While tragic, the Sri Lanka bombings are not unique. Catastrophic losses have riddled the planet for millennia. Whether through human means (Sri Lanka, World Trade Centers, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Holocaust, The Crusades, Three Kingdoms, Conquests of Timur, e.g.) or natural disasters (Hurricane Harvey, South Asia Flood, Haitian Earthquakes, Pompeii, e.g.), mass casualty events are heart-wrenching. But where was God during all of these?
The Bible is not short of instances of this question. Consider Habakkuk (1:2-3): “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me.”
Or the words of David in Psalm 13, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
Job, a man “blameless and upright; he feared God and shinned evil,” wrote “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me” (Job 1).
Through these pleas we find solace in God. Each of these predecessors of faith experienced God through their trials. Some, like Habakkuk, far more devastating than Sri Lanka. Job, at the end of his story, relents (spoken to the Lord): “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42).
David, too, finished his cries with hope, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13). And Habakkuk, who sits watching God’s chosen people succumb to the Chaldeans, finds praise through the destruction. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Hab 3:17-19).
WHERE WAS GOD
Where was God during Easter in Sri Lanka? Was He not good enough to want to save them? Was He not powerful enough that He could save them?
Jesus’ half-brother James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). God’s might and His glory is evidenced more clearly after the storm than in the absence of evil.
Where was God during Easter in Sri Lanka? He was in the same place He’s always been. His faithful love does not change.
To ask if God is not good because He did not stop tragedy, or assume He is not all powerful because the bombers weren’t stopped, is to undermine God. The process of challenging God’s motives, actions or otherwise is to lower God and raise up the self; it is to take the seat of the all-knowing.
The Bible is clear on this. God will use hardship for our benefit; He will be faithful and trustworthy to love His creation. But, He offers no promise of safety, health, wealth or prosperity this side of heaven. His concern is, and always will be, our eternal salvation. Comparatively, these brief moments of terror and even the years of anger, hurt and loss, are fleeting moments in time. Only through the perspective of a timeless future can we begin to understand the goodness and power of God.
The question, therefore, is not “Where was God during the bombings on Easter?” But “Am I willing to see the world through His eyes, or will I hold only to my own understanding?”