“My eyes fail from weeping; I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed
because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.”
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
At first, they thought it was fireworks, or perhaps technical difficulties with the speakers. The last thing the crowd of twenty-two thousand concert-goers expected was a brutal act of terror resulting in at least fifty-eight dead and over five hundred injured.
Country music fans had come from all over the United States (and even the UK) to see their favorite artists perform at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on a fifteen-acre lot set against the backdrop of the sparkling Las Vegas Strip.
The Mandalay Casino and Resort towered over the venue, and it was from there, on the thirty-second floor, that a 64-year-old man unleashed death and destruction from a stockpile of rifles before he ultimately took his own life.
It happened on October first around 10 pm.
When morning broke, what had previously been a site of dancing and celebrating had become a crime scene. Yellow tape. Blood splattered cups. Abandoned purses and shirts stained bright red. As Jeremiah the prophet said, “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning” (Lam. 5:15).
The scene felt all too familiar. Just over a year ago, in June of 2016, I walked into the KCBI studios to the news of “the worst mass shooting in the history of the US” after a gunman opened fire on a nightclub in Orlando, FL, killing forty-eight and wounding dozens more. A few weeks later terror hit home when yet another man shot and killed five Dallas police officers just blocks away from our office.
Although the locations are different, the questions this kind of evil prompts are the same.
How could a “good God” allow this? Why didn’t God stop this? Where was God during this?
The prophet Jeremiah had similar questions when he watched the Assyrians, Egyptians, Arameans, and Babylonians ravage the people and city of Jerusalem. In fact, Lamentations, the twenty-fifth book of the Bible, is a five-chapter work devoted exclusively to Jeremiah’s grief. Speaking of the city’s residents, he said the following:
But now they are blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets. Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field. —Lamentations 4:8–9
The prophet’s desperate cries are especially weighty for us today, as we have watched two Category 4 hurricanes slam into the US while Puerto Rico nearly collapsed under Maria.
So what are we to do and how are we supposed to think? Jeremiah provides a roadmap.
The Proximity of God: He hears our despair, draws near, and invites our questions.
Dallas Theological Seminary professor and author Dr. Sandra Glahn sat down with me the morning after the shooting to discuss God and suffering. She approaches events like this by pointing to the psalms. “God does not get angry when we cry out in grief and doubt. Over half of the psalms are laments—essentially saying, ‘Where are you, God?’”
Glahn shared a story about the first time she took her kitten to the vet. Having always been a dog person, she didn’t know that you were supposed to put a cat in a carrier. The poor kitten yowled in terror the entire car ride. “That’s when it hit me—because the kitten was so inferior in intelligence, I had no way of explaining that we were doing something scary for a good reason, that I had good motives for allowing a small measure of suffering.”
Isaiah 55:8–9 reminds us that God is far above the heavens and the earth; his thoughts and ways infinitely surpass ours. We are invited to cry out in doubt and despair but must realize that we may never understand why things are the way they are.
The Person of God: Weep and wail, but remember who God is.
While the book of Lamentations is scarcely read, some of Scripture’s most quoted verses are found nestled in the midst of Jeremiah’s cries. The prophet structured the book in an interesting way. We read forty-four verses of anguish and agony. Then he makes a deliberate shift in His thinking and calls to mind God’s character and nature:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Jeremiah spends eleven verses mediating on God’s goodness, and then we read forty-four more verses of mourning. What does this mean? The main thing the prophet wants us to remember is that we love and serve a God who pursues us, who feels great compassion toward us, and who greets us each morning with a fresh batch of mercy. This same God gave his Son for us. In the midst of his grief, Jeremiah stresses the faithful loving-kindness of the Lord.
The Promise of God: Our pain is temporary.
In Lamentations 3:31 the prophet declares that men “are not cast off from the Lord forever.” The Apostle Paul, after suffering numerous forms of torture repeatedly, wrote that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18),” and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).”
As we grieve these seemingly apocalyptic events, let them remind us that this world is not our home. We are sojourners passing through, and we know how this story ends.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”—Revelation 21:3–4
The promise of Christ is the promise of victory—victory over evil and over death itself. So how can a good God stand aside in the face of evil? He doesn’t. He is present in those who rush to give aid, money, blood, and comfort. But as long as there is free will, there will be those who freely choose destruction. In his infinite wisdom and sovereignty, God has allowed it.
But not for long.
This present darkness is very temporary. Love will triumph over hate, light will drive back the dark, and Jesus Christ will reign for eternity.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. —Revelation 22:20
How is God encouraging you today?
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