“Where was God when the unthinkable happened in Tucson, Arizona this week?” It was an honest question asked of me by a friend struggling with her faith. One that was hard, really hard, to answer. “Help me Lord”, I prayed, “I don’t know what to say”. Tearfully our eyes met and, for a moment, I felt completely defeated. Then something I heard a Navy Chaplain share after the 9/11attack on the Pentagon came to mind.
God was there. There in the sacrificial heart of the husband who died shielding his wife with his own body. He was there in the selfless courage of the woman who tore bullets from the gunman’s hand and there in the words of thankfulness spoken by a grieving mother for nine wonderful years of life with the daughter she had just lost.
And He is here. He did not leave us as orphans after His death, resurrection and return to heaven. He gave us His Spirit to be with us through every trial, tragedy and adversity. As our hearts break, we are comforted in ways the world cannot understand. Natalie Grant, a contemporary Christian singer, expresses this beautifully in the lyrics of Our Hope Endures. “But our hope endures the worst of conditions. It’s more than our optimism… Emmanuel, God is with us, El Shaddai, all sufficient. We never walk alone, and this is our hope.”
We live imperfectly in an imperfect world. We may not ever understand fully why God allows such horror and suffering but we can take comfort in knowing He cares and understands because He came to be with us, living in our crazy mixed-up world, to suffer unfair, excruciating pain, loss and death. We love, worship and follow a God who has walked where we now walk.
Today a beautifully fashioned piece of wood hangs from a chain around my neck. It is a gift from a longtime friend and master craftsman fashioned from a burl. Burls, gnarly, dense and ugly outgrowths that bulge heavily from the trunks of trees, are the result of some major distress suffered by the tree. Once a burl is carefully removed and placed in the hands of a master craftsman, these grotesque objects are skillfully transformed into a work of art and are greatly prized for the character that emanates from their strength and unique beauty.
Jesus never told us we would be exempt from suffering. The Bible says we are “partners with Christ” in His suffering (I Peter 4:13) but He has promised to work even the most grotesque of horrors to good in the lives of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) As I hold my beautiful burl necklace in my hand, I am reminded of that promise and the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed but we don’t give up and quit…God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.” Our hope endures! God is still in the business of making beauty from the burls of our lives.