Vineyard Youth

Where is God in All This Pain?

By: Shawn Mayo
Where is God in All This Pain?

I listen to an online radio app called Spotify while I’m at work. Today (October 3rd) I noticed that sandwiched between Miley Cyrus’ new album and the “On Fleek” playlist was a new playlist dedicated to the victims of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas – the largest mass shooting to date in the USA. A senseless and heartbreaking tragedy.

Spotify’s “Peace” Playlist notes that, “We mourn the loss of the victims of the senseless shooting in Las Vegas”. One thing I noticed while listening is that it had a ton of Christian music and songs about God/Jesus/Heaven.

Spotify isn’t exactly known for their love of all things sacred – many times I have be be careful about the content in their selections and cover art. However, as I tuned my ear today, I heard songs from christian artists like Hillsong United, King & Country, MercyMe, and Amy Grant. I heard classic hymns like The Old Rugged Cross and Sweet Hour of Prayer. I even heard secular artists like Thomas Rhett singing having a “Beer with Jesus”, Craig Campbell sang about how he’d rather live on the Outskirts of Heaven rather than on the streets of gold, and Bob Dylan sang about “With God on Our Side”.

What really struck me – what I noticed most in all of this is that when tragedy strikes, when pain comes to bear, people naturally run to God for comfort. When a child gets knocked down by a bully, often times they will run to a nearby parent looking for protection, comfort, and healing. I believe it’s the same with our heavenly parent, God.

It is comforting to know that God will one day blot out evil forever. It feels safe inside His strong embrace. The author of Psalm 69 gives us a picture of the comfort we can find in our creator.

Vs. 16-21 “Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me; deliver me because of my foes. You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

Vs. 29-33, “But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves. The poor will see and be glad— you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.”

It’s not exactly rare that we cry out to God in times of tragedy. We can go days, months, and years without talking with God, but when something truly difficult comes in our path, we cry out immediately. Sometimes it feels like a reflex – we call out to Him without even thinking. Is this because it’s ingrained in our nature?  

I find it interesting that Psychology Today notes that 11% of atheists and agnostics pray weekly or monthly. If they don’t believe in God, or are unsure that God exists, why do they find comfort in prayer? What innate longing finds fulfilment through communicating with God?

When the world is hurting, I believe that God is hurting as well. God takes no pleasure in mass shootings, needless death, or abusive power. His original design can be seen in early Genesis, before sin entered our world. Adam and Eve had perfect relationship with God, each other, and the planet. There was no murder, no rape, no inequality. It was a loving God and adoring, innocent creation. Like unabashed children Eve and Adam were perfect before they fell into sin. They had nothing to be ashamed of, they had nothing to be anxious about, and they had nothing disqualifying them from God’s presence.

This is a picture of the Kingdom of God that Jesus prayed would come to earth as it is in heaven. It is what Paul said we only see as in a fogged mirror. It is what John says will one day overpower Satan’s kingdom of evil. This place, without evil, is where God wants us to be.

But we’re at war.

There is a war that has been waging on for millennia. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. God versus the Satan. We live in the pocked and blood stained battlefield between heaven and hell. We tell the stories of those, like Moses and Noah, who made it out with scars. We warn of stories like Sodom and Gomorrah of those who turn over to the enemy’s side. We follow the blueprint of our hero, Jesus, who lived in our shoes, fought our battles, and won the war by dying our death.

So it’s no wonder that when we look around at the evil in the world we run to our heavenly father, full of strength, healing, and hope. Where else do we have to go?

The world knows that something is broken. I don’t know a single person who would deny it. (Except maybe this guy – He’d probably deny it.) That’s why americans spend billions on self-help books to garner inner strength to face daily life. We take prescriptions to numb the pain of our brokenness. We are living in a world full of pain, suffering, injustice, sexism, racism, hatred, abuse, and… sin.

If we trace the source of all these issues, they all stem from sin.

Pre test – What was the world like before Sin? Genesis 2. It’s pretty good; Trees, rivers, aromatic resin, naked wifey.

Post test – What was the world like after sin? Genesis 3. It’s pretty bad; Death, blame, and a flaming sword. By chapter 4 we have murder, and by chapter 6 God has to start over because “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

Sin’s grip on the world is far reaching. It has forced itself into every aspect of our lives and world. From the grand scale of natural disasters to the minute of our body’s cells. Mass shootings, sexual abuse, self-harm all come from perversion of God’s original creation.

Perversion is a term often used in woodworking. It describes a board that was once straight, but has become twisted or warped. The dictionary defines the word as, “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.” I can’t think of a better way to describe painful the world we live in – twisted, warped, demented… Sinful.

In 1977 Philip Yancey wrote a book titled, “Where is God When it Hurts”. It became popular again after September 11th, 2001 when the world was asking the same question. It would be a good read for anyone listening to Spotify’s Peace Playlist. Today, the book is still relevant, thought provoking, and insightful. A must read for anyone in any kind of ministry or dealing with people (yes, that’s you).

One quote that especially stands out to me is this:
“Today, if I had to answer the question ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ in a single sentence, I would make that sentence another question: ‘Where is the church when it hurts?’ We [the Church] form the front line of God’s response to the suffering world.”

I believe Mr. Yancey nailed it – the Church is to be the Body of Christ. Where did we find Jesus? With those who were hurting. So where should we find ourselves? Right in the thick of it. My mother always told me that “the safest place to be is right in the middle of God’s will. Anywhere outside of that and you’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble. You could be in the middle of the most dangerous place on earth, but if that’s where God wants you then you’ve got nothing to worry about because God’s on your side.”

So, how should we respond to tragedy? Is it enough, like spotify, to make a playlist featuring songs that hint at Jesus and heaven, or is that like a child born blind attempting to describing what Abraham Lincoln looked like?

None of us reading this article have ever met the president, Abraham Lincoln. We’ve not sat down to dinner at his table nor sipped a cup of coffee while trading life stories. But I’ll bet that you know who he was, what he looked like, and aspects of his character.

How do we know? Because we’ve seen his image. We’ve heard stories of him; his unwavering honesty, his unfaltering perseverance, and his untimely death.

In a similar way, we, the Church, bear the image of God into this perverted and broken world. The way we live should resemble the set-apart character of God. The way we love should replicate His unrelenting forgiveness and grace. The way we serve should reflect the sacrifice Jesus made for us by taking the hell we deserve.

“We form the front line of God’s response to the suffering world”.  

Our response to tragedy dictates the world’s view of a living God. we attest to the Savior, Messiah. We bring God’s Kingdom of light into a world covered in Satan’s darkness. We, the body of Christ, act as the hands and feet of Jesus and we bring His Kingdom with us wherever we go.

So let’s go where it’s needed most so that when they see you – they see Him!

 

UP NEXT: THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN DEALING WITH PAIN

You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have

Watch Out for Aftershocks

You’re Not God – YOU Can’t Fix It

 

Shawn Mayo

Shawn Mayo

Youth Pastor - HS/MS at Vineyard Church of Wellsboro
Shawn Mayo works is the youth pastor at the Vineyard Church of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. His primary job is through county human services where he acts as the intake worker for children and youth services, mental health, drug & alcohol, intellectual disability, and early intervention programs. He loves the Portland Trailblazers and smoked brisket. He and his wife, Nicolle, love hiking, cooking, and arm wrestling in their spare time.
Shawn Mayo

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