Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Alongside us. Sustaining and strengthening us. Unmoved by the chaos.
Yesterday we explored one potential response to the question of where is God when life is hard. And we borrowed from the story of the Prodigal Son in suggesting that God is out in front of us with two postures.
1: God calls us forward. Inviting us out of our patterns of unhealth and misery. Beckoning us to a more abundant life.
2: God anxiously anticipates the moment our hearts begin to turn away from the path of destruction and towards the path of life. And in that moment God runs out to grab us, envelope us in love, and lead us back home.
Today I want to explore another idea related to the location of God during the hard times of life.
I don’t think God ONLY stands at the edge of the valley you’ve fallen in to, cheering at you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start climbing up.
Though certainly I think that’s true.
And I don’t think God ONLY waits there patiently, with great excitement at the prospect of you finally getting out. God is not just a cheerleader inspiring us to get back up again, and then there to celebrate with us when we’ve succeeded.
Though I think that’s true.
No, my hunch is that God is actually down IN the valley with us.
Present in a way so that once you’ve reached the lowest of lows and cannot even FATHOM starting to get out of the mess you’ve made, it is in THAT moment that God scoops you up. When you’ve run out of all your energies, exhausted from trying so hard, is when the Grace of God can truly and finally take over.
You know, that whole “God is strongest when I am weakest” sort of thing.
Paul, when dealing with hardships in his life, takes this posture:
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Cor 12:10
Paul takes a certain delight in the hard times because he knows that is, perhaps, when he is most aware of the presence of God.
And we all know this to be true, don’t we?
When life is going well and we’re in a rhythm of sorts, and there’s really nothing to complain about, then it’s pretty easy to… I dunno… sort of forget about God? To just sort of be like, I got this. Life is good. I’m good. All good.
(I’m not alone in this, am I?)
But when the sh*t hits the fan and everything starts falling apart, well it is then that we start to search for God. To grope around in the darkness, hoping for something secure to grab on to.
And IN that searching, IN that desperation, is precisely God.
If you grew up in conservative Christianity like I did then perhaps you struggle with some of the same religious baggage that I do. And one particularly heavy suitcase is the one that suggests that God can’t stand evil. Can’t stand sin. That God is Light, therefore there is not God-ness in the Dark-ness.
Are you with me?
And so what happens, or what can happen, is that we begin to believe that when we are in the depths of disaster (perhaps brought on by our own propensity to screw things up) we tell ourselves that we have to escsape the darkness in order to find the Light.
That surely God can’t be here, because there is too much “bad” here.
Here’s what I have to say to that: name for me, if you will, the primary tangible spot, the very location, of what amounts to the most horrible and tragic moment of evil and darkness?
The cross on the hill of Golgatha.
I mean, that’s how the biblical writers saw it.
That on that cross was the weight of the whole human race’s sin.
The cross: where the full power of sin and shame and evil and death all piled up and were hurled at the Son of Man.
Perhaps the singular most dark moment in history.
And there, right alongside it, right IN it, was the Light.
Jesus stood in the very place of human tragedy and sorrow and pain and suffering and evil.
The cross itself points to the reality that God is present precisely in the moments where you would least expect God to be.
21 the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:21
On the cross was exposed the weight of humanity’s shame and guilt.
The point at which the powers of sin and death were exposed.
Sin was on full display.
And there was Jesus.
(Who, rather ironically, felt abandoned by God. Do you blame him? Don’t you feel abandoned by God at times? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Clearly God had not forsaken Jesus, for God does not. But even Jesus himself felt the agonizing loneliness that accompanies great sorrow and suffering. But that’s another thought for another day.)
Wasn’t that a harrowing tale?
And yet also a powerful, powerful image.
So that’s why I think that God does not merely sit atop the valley, waiting for us to emerge. I see (and have experienced in my own life) a presence and reality of God RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT.
Right there in the valley. In the darkest places.
Where is God when life is hardest?