I’ll admit it. I haven’t wanted to watch the news this week. I’ve avoided clicking on the headlines. I’ve turned my eyes away from the pictures. Not because I’m heartless. Not because I don’t have feelings. Not because I don’t care.
I haven’t looked because I simply don’t know what to do. What can I do? I want to do something, but I feel utterly helpless and bitter and sad and a bit hopeless at times. (And let’s be honest: how nice that I actually have the luxury to not look while my own family sleeps safely upstairs. How nice that these are just headlines for me and not daily reality and not happening in my own backyard, and all I have to do to avoid these things is choose to close my computer or not look at my phone. But that’s another story for another day.)
So early this morning, I awoke knowing I couldn’t avoid looking any longer. I clicked on one headline, and then another, and then another. I watched video footage of a 5-year-old boy in war-torn Aleppo and a man who fled his home in the middle of the night from a flood in Louisiana.
And then racing to my mind came the questions about God that things like this always draw to the surface: Where is God in this? Where is God when tragedy and devastation strike like this? Where is God?
As I sit with these questions, I’m remembering a story about Jesus in the Gospel of John where Jesus hears the news that his friend Lazarus has died an untimely death. Upon hearing the news, Jesus goes to the town where Lazarus lives with his sisters Mary and Martha.
As Jesus arrives, both Mary and Martha run out to meet Jesus, almost scolding him in their grief, saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
A little later in the story it says that some of the crowd gathered there to mourn started muttering, “If he could heal a blind man couldn’t he have kept this man from dying?”
How many times have we said or heard something like that or asked questions like that in the midst of tragedy? “If God were real and all-powerful, this wouldn’t have happened! How could there be a God if things like this happen?”
The story continues:
When Jesus saw them weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
In the midst of the questions and the statements and the accusations, Jesus did maybe the most unexpected thing and the most profound thing he could have done in that moment.
He joined them in the pit of their grief. He began weeping with the people who were weeping. And in doing so, he made an announcement:
“I am with you in this. God is with you in this.”
What does God do when tragedy strikes? I think God weeps. God mourns. God grieves. In Jesus, we don’t have a detached kind of God who set the world in motion and then leaves us alone to try to figure it all out. We have a God who enters in to the deepest, darkest, saddest places of our existence and sits down with us in it.
In this story, the first response of Jesus is to go to the people who are hurting and to weep with them.
Where is God this week? God is in Aleppo. God is in Louisiana.
God is sitting in a chair in the back of an ambulance in Syria whispering “I love you” to a kid in shock from senseless devastation, and God is in the rescue boats of strangers in the middle of the night in Louisiana. I’ve heard it said that if you want to find God, go to where people are hurting because that’s where God hangs out.
God is there. God is weeping. God is with us.
When all else fails, weeping with the people who are weeping is a good place to start. Hurting with those who are hurting never hurts. God is there. We are not alone.
*** If you are interesting in doing something to respond to these tragedies and others, I recommend considering UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief). UMCOR is committed to long-term recovery and aid projects around the globe, including places such as Syria and Louisiana. Click here to learn more about UMCOR, here to learn more about how you can support UMCOR’s work with Syrian refugees, and here for more information about how you can donate or respond to the flooding in Louisiana.