“What about innocent children with cancer? Where is god then.”
There it is, questioning bold, just below this image:
It’s a question for which there are no easy answers, one even believers ask when innocents suffer.
Where is the throne of God, the Almighty King, loving, faithful, when this world doesn’t look much like a kingdom?
My thumb hovers over the comment. I wonder if these words betray some personal pain or just weariness with all the hard edges of living. I want to be able to say something to the person who slams the words down, honest. I want to be able to look deep and say this, so they can see that I mean to share, not to teach:
I don’t have all the answers to suffering.
But I serve a King who knows suffering, who wears it. And He hasn’t left us alone in this place.
3 am. Adam bursts through the door of our bedroom, a sudden storm obliterating the peace. Before I open my eyes, I know he has blown in. It feels as though a great wind has sucked me from sleep, and I can’t quite think.
“What is your blood sugar?” I ask the darkness, not seeing.
I’m not sure if my mind is just still fuzzy or if he has mumbled, but something makes me ask again. “What is it?”
I fumble, blind, in the table beside my bed, searching for fast sugar. Nothing. I sigh, body sore, body throbbing desperately for sleep, and heave myself up and out of bed. I reach out to touch Adam and feel wet, cold pajamas, fabric soaked. “He’s soaked,” I say to Kevin, and then to Adam, “Go put on some clean pajamas. I will go get some Skittles.”
Downstairs, I throw handfuls of Skittles into a bag, enough to raise 48. And standing there, body hurting in the dark, I remember that comment, that bold, raw question.
Where is God then.
I pull myself up the stairs, further awake in this vulnerable, naked, lonely hour, this dead hour before the new light comes. I hand Adam the bag of Skittles, but in my mind, a question thunders. Why is he wet if his blood sugar is 48? Wet usually means terribly high, the body dumping sugar anyway it can. I reach for the PDM that controls his insulin pump. Better to double check. And on the screen, not 48, but 489. I reach for the bag of Skittles, just as his fingers take up a few more.
“No. Adam, you’re high. No Skittles.”
In Adam’s room, Kevin has stripped the soaked sheets from the bed. I show him the PDM, and he draws in his breath.
“I thought he said 48,” I say in disbelief.
“That’s what I heard too,” Kevin says, “both times.”
“Be right back,” I say, sighing, heading downstairs for a new insulin pod. 489 likely means a block in the tube that continually drips the medicine Adam needs to live. I put the bag of Skittles in my room. In the bathroom, we begin the process of changing the insulin pod. Kevin gives Adam an emergency insulin injection and tries to get a urine sample so that we can test for ketones. Just as the new set finishes priming, it sounds a continuous alarm, a piercing squeal. Something faulty in the new pod. I look at Kevin, sighing again, turning to walk back out of the bathroom for another new pod. I really should keep several of these upstairs, I’m thinking, my hand on the banister. By the time I get back, Kevin has deactivated the pod, silencing the shrill alarm. He and Adam wait. I begin again, filling a syringe with insulin so that I can fill the reservoir on a second new pod. This time, everything works as it should, and insulin delivery resumes. Kevin and I move back into Adam’s room to put fresh sheets on the bed, and half an hour later, I tuck our son back under his covers, kissing him on the forehead.
“I don’t even know if it’s worth trying to get back to sleep,” Kevin says, weary, as we fall back into bed and let the sore and tired envelope us again. And in my mind, that question slapped down, dangling awkward, a period stopping the inquiry flat, held down heavy where the voice is meant to lilt.
Where is god then.
I curl up, praying, and just as I begin to drift, these words: Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good. Cling to what is good. I let the words wrap close, knowing that in the morning I’ll have to read them in context, that I’ll want to listen intently.
5 am, and we drag ourselves from sleep. We cradle mugs of hot coffee. Steam curls and drifts over the rims, and we settle together in the half dark for hearing, for time spent asking God to give us His eyes instead of our own. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good. I cannot wait.
And this is what God has for me:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”"
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12: 9-21).
I chuckle. I can’t help it. Whenever God wants to show me something, He does it in a thousand different ways. I had forgotten those words came from Romans 12. I have been considering participating in the Romans project, have felt the transforming nudge to commit to it, and now everywhere I turn, down every winding path, God speaks through Romans 12. I have been meditating for weeks on being a living sacrifice, on the gift of the Body, and now this, the answer to the question slapped down, the where is God then.
In a world where evil brings suffering, He is the sincere love poured out. He is the sacrifice. He is the opposite way, the good that overcomes evil with love instead of hate, peace instead of revenge, justice in His hands instead of our own. He is the harmony, the blessing covering over persecution, the hospitality, the putting self aside, the honoring of others, the patience in affliction, the joy in hope, the faithful prayer.
Life hurts. But He hasn’t left us alone in this place. And this world is kingdom deep, kingdom now, even when it doesn’t look like any kingdom at all.
7am, and the morning has swept me up, and already I feel weary. Breakfast dishes clutter the kitchen counter, and I have been fixing hair for the girls, writing the schedule for Adam, signing papers, changing Zoe’s insulin pod. The rushing chaos steals my breath, and I want to run out the front door and never stop, never look back. Sometimes, it’s all just too much.
Where is God then.
I find Adam waiting for me in the kitchen, restless. On his face, the look he gets when he really wants to say something, when he intends to try hard.
“Yes,” I say, touching him on the shoulder, catching his eyes.
He moves in front of me, back and forth, back and forth, looking as though the words sit just out of reach.
“Beautiful,” he says. Just that.
I smile, and then he continues. “I love you.”
In a world where words come hard and often not at all, those words are hope and such precious grace. They are the patience in our affliction, the joy of hope. Adam almost never says I love you unless I have said those words to him. But this morning, those three precious words fall soft, sweet.
“I love you too,” I tell him, reaching to hug him close. But he pulls back quickly. He isn’t finished.
He stands on his tip toes, suddenly flapping, the date of his birthday rushing quickly through his lips.
“I know. Your birthday is soon, isn’t it?”
And then, a huge grin, and the name of yet another music CD he wants, and the hug I tried to take just a few seconds before.
I laugh out loud, suddenly realizing that my son has just buttered me up before telling me what he wants for his birthday. This, and yet sometimes we wonder how much he can learn, how much he understands, as though any of that ever really rested in our hands. So much good lays just beyond all our hard living.
9am, and we wind our way through carpool, and Zoe checks her hair in the mirror. She asked me to try something new today, a knotted headband style we found on YouTube. She pats it delicately with one hand, smiling. ”Mom, I look like a princess.”
She says this softly, from somewhere else, and then it’s as though the words have awakened her to something deep and true.
“I mean,” she continues, more focused, “I don’t look like a princess with what I’m wearing, but I am a princess. Anyone who loves God is a princess, because God is our heavenly Dad, and He is a king. Daddy is my earthly dad, but God is my heavenly dad.”
I nod, smiling, driving. ”Yes, exactly.”
“And you’re a princess too, Mom (oh, but today I feel so weary), and Riley’s a princess, and Dad’s a princess.” She erupts in giggles. ”Ooops. I mean, Dad’s not a princess. He’s a prince.”
I laugh with her, smiling still bigger. ”I knew what you meant. And yes, you’re right. You’re royalty everyday, all the time, no matter what you’re wearing.” And in my heart, the Spirit whispers, “Do you believe that, even when you don’t feel it?”
“But Mom? Jesus didn’t look like a king when He was here either.” She says this last just as we reach school, and there it is:
Jesus didn’t look like a king when He was here either.
And just like that, she flings the door open and yells, “Bye,” and skips away from me.
And I drive away with her Truth, still sitting in the car with me.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 5-8)!
He looked so little like a king when He walked this place, that some entirely missed it, the way I still sometimes miss that this is a kingdom now because He’s here—yes, He’s here–that it isn’t the place that makes the realm but the presence of the King.
It’s the right question, where is God then. But our eyes betray us, heavy with our suffering, blinded as we are by sore and tired, stinging with hurt. We look in the wrong places.
We don’t recognize that the robes He took up here were the dusty garments of a servant, the blood-soaked cloak of sacrifice. And all the while, not looking like the king He is, He brought the kingdom to this suffering place when He surrendered himself and poured out love. The kingdom is still seen in the way we take up sacrifice, the way we offer up love, the way we wear His life like a robe.
So maybe this place doesn’t look much like a kingdom, and from this messed up angle suffering doesn’t look much like love, and yes, life hurts.
At 3 am when the storm blows in, I don’t feel much like a princess. I can’t find Him there in the empty dark of night, in the weary sore. I can’t see Him in the soaked sheets, in the medical emergencies, in my son needing medicine just to keep on living. I can’t find him in a disability that steals my son’s words and leaves him shifting, restless. I don’t see Him there, in my not enough. Hate what is evil. It’s the wrong place for looking, staring straight into that ugly, evil face.
Where is god then.
Oh no, He hasn’t left me alone here. It’s just that I’m so often blind, my eyes focused poorly on everything He isn’t. Hate what is evil.
Cling to what is good.
In the night, He opens our eyes, and we clasp our hands and bow our heads, husband and wife made one, and we give thanks that our son gets up at 3 am to test his own blood sugar. We give thanks for together in the night; for wet, stinky pajamas feeling cold beneath my fingers; for His Spirit, moving me to ask twice, grabbing me by the shoulders, opening my eyes. We give thanks for the thundering question, the one I can’t shake, the Why is he wet if he’s 48? And in the morning, we give thanks for medicine that means our son lives, and healthy. We give thanks for Adam trying hard even though; for beautiful and I love you; that he knows enough to butter me up, and just when I need it most. We give thanks for a daughter who knows that no matter what ripped up suffering she must wear here on this earth, she’s a princess for all time.
Where is God then.
He’s in every good thing.
Cling to what is good.