That was the title of a talk I gave several years ago before a group of international women. Several of them had personally experienced such tragedies and asked the question that frequently plagued me: “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” “Where is God in the midst of my tragedy?”
Sometimes there are alerts before disaster. Scientists send out notice that tremblors are detected between earth’s plates. Heavy rainfall precedes overflowing banks. Smoke detectors allow parents to save their children. A doctor warns about increasing blood pressure.
But then comes the unexpected quaking in Haiti that sends terrified children and adults from collapsing buildings. The normally friendly Ahr river in Germany roars with devastating force into homes once thought to be lifetime sturdy. A small town in California cannot be saved by wind-whipped fire. The diagnosis is terminal.
My husband’s symptoms crept in over a matter of a few days. Slight breathlessness, increasing fatigue. Is this just another sign of advancing age? Should we soldier on having heard “old age isn’t for sissies”? Better judgment and past experience indicated a trip to the doctor, a wise man we’ve learned to trust.
When he sent my husband home with an oxygen tank and warning to see a pulmonologist without delay, we again faced one of those unexpected junctures of life. The ultimate diagnosis was pulmonary fibrosis, leading to oxygen 24/7, a walker to assist with movement, a transfer chair for longer distances.
In spite of a lifetime of healthy habits (no smoking) and physical exercise—running, biking, hiking, skiing, mountain climbing—his lungs are riddled with scarring sacs that impede oxygen utilization. This is not a find-a-cure disease, but something that medical experts can only control as much as possible.
Earthquakes, floods, fires and…lung disease. In a letter sent shortly after the diagnosis, we wrote about other challenges we’ve faced since entering full time ministry. Heartbreaking misunderstanding, our young child’s kidney disease and his ultimate death as a teenager from cancer, financial obstacles, etc. Where was God then? Where is he now?
The answer seems trite to some but lifegiving for us: He is exactly where he has promised to be: never leaving or forsaking us. Equally important, he is simply who he promised to be: loving us with everlasting love, a God whose way is perfect, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Those are the answers, but one question remains: will we continue to trust him? We know dark days may lie ahead, but he remains our light and salvation. Walking in that light means greeting each day with gratitude, deliberately turning our eyes on Jesus even while acknowledging the circumstances, enjoying good food, appreciating time with family and friends, stretching our minds with satisfying reading, and finding humor in the most unlikely places.
Years ago as I sat through the darkest of days, God seemed to personally point me to Isaiah 43, words originally given to his beloved Jews, but applied to my heart:
… this is what the Lord says—
he who created and formed you…
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
…you are precious and honored in my sight,
and I love you…
True in 1980 and true today.