We often feel that God is apathetic to the chaos of the world. Why does it seem as though evil perpetually wins out over the good? When will God vindicate the defenseless and the disenfranchised? Does God even care?
In certain circles, to bespeak these sorts of concerns is to commit heresy. “God’s ways are not our ways,” we have heard it said. Or, “God is good all the time” a person might reassure us. Perhaps a more aggressive tone is taken as someone may accusingly ask, “Who are you to question God?!” These pious people often act as though they have never experienced a dark night of the soul. They act as though they have never wrestled with God. They act as though they have never encountered a tragedy.
To be honest, some of these people have successfully avoided some of these hard realities of life. This is in no small part due to their race, class, gender, socioeconomic status etc. However, there are those, who have experienced tragedy and have convinced themselves that lamenting is reserved for the “losers” of the world. By suppressing these negative emotions they convince themselves that they are exemplifying both piety and perseverance. Job, who was a holy and righteous man, never got the memo that in order to be a faithful follower of God he would need to “be strong and move on.” Not only did Job lament for himself, but he also took the time to lament for the innocent people who were ravaged by the rich and the powerful. He cries out (Job 24:1-12),
Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment?
Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?
2 There are those who move boundary stones;
they pasture flocks they have stolen.
3 They drive away the orphan’s donkey
and take the widow’s ox in pledge.
4 They thrust the needy from the path
and force all the poor of the land into hiding.
5 Like wild donkeys in the desert,
the poor go about their labor of foraging food;
the wasteland provides food for their children.
6 They gather fodder in the fields
and glean in the vineyards of the wicked.
7 Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold.
8 They are drenched by mountain rains
and hug the rocks for lack of shelter.
9 The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
the infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
10 Lacking clothes, they go about naked;
they carry the sheaves, but still go hungry.
11 They crush olives among the terraces;
they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
12 The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out for help.
Yet God does nothing…
Job doesn’t hold back here as he wonders aloud whether or not God really cares about the grave injustices done to the widow and the orphan. But Job is not alone in his lament. Similarly, the prophet Habakkuk (1:2b-4) cries out,
2b How long before you save us
from all this violence?
3 Why do you make me watch
such terrible injustice?
Why do you allow violence,
lawlessness, crime, and cruelty
to spread everywhere?
4 Laws cannot be enforced;
justice is always the loser;
criminals crowd out honest people
and twist the laws around.
Indeed, the world of Job and Habakkuk is not so dissimilar to ours. Children are sold as prostitutes. Widows are evicted from their homes. CEO’s cheat and trick those in society who are most vulnerable. And all the while, we wonder—often aloud, “God, do you care?”
God doesn’t care. Or rather, that would be the appropriate conclusion if not for the incarnation. If not for God being born in a barn. If not for God trading riches for poverty. If not for God willingly putting his Spirit in Christ Jesus, so that the good news could be embodied among the poor. If not for God’s demonstration of solidarity with the outcasts and radicals of society. If not for God conjuring up a new society that exalts the losers of the old order. But perhaps, the best indication of divine pathos is found in God’s execution. We know not of God’s caring because of a specific word, a specific doctrine, or because of a specific attribute ascribed to God. Rather, we know God is caring because of the cross. And it is through the cross that Christ calls his disciples to live. Inevitably what this means is that, like Christ, we are to go about in the world snuffing out and condemning injustice—even if we are killed for doing so.
In the end, we may take courage in this: God does not forsake us in our times of anguish. Instead, God meets us where we are and reminds us of his suffering love.
1. Painting by Georges Rouault’s Who Does Not Put On Makeup? plate 8