I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah is not a Christian, she acknowledges that there must be a higher power behind creation but has no religious persuasions or affiliations beyond that. During a very rare God conversation she asked me where God was when a small child dies of cancer. If there is a loving, relational being out there how can He seem so cruel and distant? Sarah added that in such a case she would rather take the child’s place in death and suffering yet God does nothing. She added a personal story of the death of a loved one where someone made a well-intentioned but insensitive and offensive comment about God needing a deceased person taken from her family more than their loved ones did and had taken them home.
Now Sarah is a good, compassionate and intelligent person and I believe that her thoughts and feelings suggested that she understood and was closer to the heart of God than most religious people that I know are. I tried to explain that the Bible portrays death as an enemy, that the world is a broken place and that that is kind of the point of the cross and resurrection. I do not believe that God is distant in our suffering or indifferent to death. He is not idle at all but has entered in to our story and suffered and died as one of us so that through death, He might conquer or overcome it that we could enter in to His story and rise again, incorruptible and free from the things that currently make us broken.
So where is God when a child dies? He is hanging on cross, put there by the very people that He wants to save. Where is He when a woman is is dragged in to a field, raped and then strangled to death? He is getting flogged by soldiers and carried off to get executed. All while the people He loves clap their hands in approval and shout that this must be Gods will. The point of Jesus dying is not to satisfy the wrath of an angry deity who must pour his wrath in to someone or something; but for God to identify with humanity in order for us to be united in Jesus and become partakers of the divine nature. We do not get to avoid death, it comes for us all whether we are 5 or 95 years old, and eventually we all die. But the hope we have is that death cannot hold us and that there is new life after. God is like Sarah in that He would rather taste of death Himself than see a child remain in bondage to death and suffering.
Let me add as well that God does not 'take people home' because somehow an all-powerful, omnipresent being needs a new angel more than a small child needed their mother or a husband needed his wife. Remember, death and disease are portrayed as enemies in the New Testament and Jesus went around healing people and raising them wherever He went. The only time we look at death as a friend is when people are suffering and we see it as a release. There is validity in this but ultimately we yearn for a life free of pain and suffering and this is what is hoped for in newness of life. And this life is not to be lived in some far away spiritual utopia. Scripture tells us that earth is our forever home, where we will one day reside again minus all the bad stuff that currently makes it not so pleasant. As ambassadors of this ‘heavenly kingdom’ we’re supposed to be actively proclaiming and living for this good right now. Making things more beautiful or at least a little less cruddy as we go along.
Of course, atonement and eternal life on earth are much bigger topics than what I have shared here. Why not just snap His fingers and end death instead of go through it at all? I tried to answer that in my first book and my new one will add more perspective as well. For now, I hope this gives a new slant to where God is in our suffering and portrays Him less as a passive bystander and more as an active agent for change. Hopefully there is a thought in here that will help someone through their suffering or at least think twice before giving awful answers about God to those who are grieving.