Sunday, April 9, 2017
Where was God this morning?
WHERE WAS GOD?
This morning, Palm Sunday morning, as Coptic Christians were celebrating and remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, bombs went off at their churches and killed dozens of worshippers, and wounded scores. ISIS was quick to claim responsibility.
My heart goes out to those brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe in their grief during this most special time of the year for those of the Christian faith.
A few years ago I got to go on a trip to tour sites in Jordan, Israel and Egypt. While we were in Egypt, we were hosted by a guide who was a Coptic Christian. She was a very intelligent woman, knowledgeable about the history of her nation and all the sites we went to see. Every time I read a headline about the Copts, I always think of her, and how gracious she was to us on our tour.
It wasn’t that long ago a Coptic Church in Cairo was bombed by the radical Islamic terrorists. I remember hearing later that after that happened, the next time the church gathered to worship, more tolerant Muslims gathered in front of the church to protect it and to show in a tangible way that not all Muslims are like those terrorists.
I have known of folks who have wondered, though, why God would allow things like that to happen to people who worship him, why he doesn’t prevent these things from happening.
It is a good question, and this is a good time to ask it.
Today, in our worship services, we focused on the fact that when Jesus headed into Jerusalem on the Triumphal Entry, he went in knowing that he was soon to be tortured and killed, and yet he went. He went because he knew that God had a purpose that was more important than keeping Jesus safe from physical harm--the winning forgiveness and salvation for millions who would believe. First Peter 2:21-23 addresses this and the relevance it has for those of us who struggle:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
It is interesting that this passage makes the assumption that those who follow him will also suffer, and that Jesus’ experiences of Holy Week serve as guides for how we are to face tough times. I have heard reports in the past that the Coptic Christians who have suffered so much have actually lived by the instructions in this passage, and that their response to suffering has had a great impact on those who have observed them, even causing some of them to come to Christ to follow the God who helps people in suffering such as this.
God doesn’t always explain why he allows people to suffer, and not even those who are striving to follow him in life. Nor is he obligated to do so. But over and again the scriptures make clear that God DOES have purpose when he allows tragedy into the lives of believers, and that he will work it into something meaningful and use it in a way that brings glory to him.
Perhaps you are struggling today as well. Maybe you didn’t lose a loved one in a bombing, but there are lots of ways people struggle: health concerns, emotional stress, job loss, the list is endless. Maybe you feel the betrayal of a spouse who has filed for divorce, as Jesus felt the betrayal of Judas and of the crowd who would later shout for him to be crucified. He understands what it is like to be betrayed. And he left you an example of how to cope with it.
Where was God this morning in Egypt?
He was weeping beside those who lost loved ones in the bombing, and was collecting every tear they shed as a precious treasure.
He was holding the survivors close, waiting for them to turn to him for comfort and hope.
He was speaking to the hearts of the ISIS leaders, warning them that the path they are on is not the way of God.
He was reaching out to the hearts of those who are observing the Coptic Christians in their grief, showing them that there is a faith that can sustain even in the darkest of days.
At the same time, I also heard today that Christians were able to freely gather and worship today near Mosul, after years of oppression that kept them from doing so.
God is still alive, God is still moving.
I invite you to join me in prayer for the families of the victims there in Egypt, and also for their witness in this tragic time. I invite you to join me in praying that God will help them through the rest of their Holy Week remembrance, and be especially near to them on Easter. And, though I did not write about them, let’s also be in prayer for all those victimized with the poisonous attacks in Syria. The world is just as troubled today as it was when Jesus walked the earth. Thank God, though, that he has done something about it: he sent a Savior who will one day return as judge, at which time he will make all things right. At that time, we will no longer ask why; instead, we will marvel at the wisdom of God in allowing things we would never have imagined could be turned for good.