I sat reading a Steven King short story in the Jiffy Lube waiting room, when the heavily tattooed, moderately pierced young gentleman who was also waiting for his car gasped. He was looking at the tv monitor in the waiting room. When he gasped, I looked too. My heart sank. It still hasn’t completely resurfaced.
As of now, 4 confirmed dead (reduced from 6), and several missing. Dozens of injuries. Of course, no statistics can convey the shock and grief for those who endured the tragedy. What really hit me was seeing the school bus, tipped right and leaning forward. Thankfully, the kids were all safe, said the reporter. The guy with me and I both shook our heads. I noticed him bow his head, pray, cross himself. I prayed too. We were bonded in that moment with each other, and with the victims.
And with God.
What kind of universe is it in which an innocent commute home from work leads to death and catastrophe like this?
It’s a good universe invaded by an alien evil. Temporarily. And, I might add, the invasion was welcomed by those in dominion at the time: Adam and Eve. One day, God will wipe it out. But for now, we struggle with the pain and loss and fear. I drove carefully over every bridge yesterday. I’ll do the same today, and for a long time.
When the tsunami hit Asia a few years ago, I preached on Isaiah 40. I almost always go there when disasters strike. It is a poetic vision of the Immensity of God. Here is a portion of that sermon:
Does that mean that God is unmoved by our sufferings? No. The Bible says God is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15). What would we have seen if we could have stood in the throne room of God December 24, 2004 when a 30 foot wall of water slammed into 4,000 miles of shoreline? [Or on August 1, 2007, when a bridge on I-35 crumbled into the waters below?]
- We would have seen the grief of God over human suffering and heartbreak. He is the Father of all mercies, and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3).
- We would have seen the justice of God dealing out perfect fairness, perfect opportunity to come to Christ, to each and every single individual involved. (“Mighty king, lover of justice, you have established fairness. You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel.” Psalms 99:4, NLT.)
- We would have seen the grace of God as he dispensed every resource, every strength, every special touch to every human who was willing to receive it, for his grace really is sufficient for us (2 Co 12:9).
- We would have seen the sovereignty of God already in the process of taking evil and turning it around for good (Gen 50:20).
- We would have seen the security of God, in that not even the concentrated evil of the world could frighten him: “The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one. “Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from this slavery.” But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them.” Psalms 2:2-4, NLT.
- We would have seem the empathy of a God whose Son endured suffering no one can measure, and makes heaven sympathetic to our hurts (“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:17, NKJV.)
In all of this, God would not have been perplexed. God would not have been dismayed or disturbed. He would not have lost his peace, his confidence, his power, his composure. He did not wring his hands. He was not surprised. And he is not dismayed. The nations are counted before him as less than dust in the scales. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care; he does care deeply.
If you have any questions about whether or not God cares, look at Jesus. Especially at his horrific death. God was not content to stay distant from human suffering. But he entered into it in full, and redeemed it, and gave it a meaning that will far outlast this universe, and all its stars and galaxies.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I lift up my voice for every adult and child who endured the horror of yesterday’s bridge collapse. You call yourself the God of all comfort, so give comfort, I pray. Draw near to each one, and make your presence palpable. For those who right now grieve the loss of a loved one, Lord have a special mercy. Touch their hearts. Take the sting out of their loss. Sustain them through their grief. Watch over us, Lord. Your world is full of wonders to dazzle the eyes–but also with dangers inflicted by the Fall. So watch over us. Give us the peace that comes from knowing all our days are in your hand. Push back the powers of darkness who would use this disaster to drive a wedge between you and the people your Son died for. Let the power of your grace overwhelm the power of fear, and discouragement, and bitterness. Let the name of Jesus be exalted. Draw seeking hearts to yourself, and illuminate the gospel of grace to them, I pray. Make us tender toward our neighbors who so desperately need the treasure we have found in Jesus. And remind us that we are pilgrims and aliens in a strange land, and our real home is heaven.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.