The moment was here. People were entering the auditorium filled with a mixture of emotions. Each one had come for a different reason, but all arrived with heavy hearts. As I stood at the back of the room, waiting for the service to start, a person came to me. The words they shared made the wheels of my mind engage and slowly turn. “I’m sure there are a million other places you would rather be right now.”
I understood what they meant. The situation was heartbreaking. As a pastor, these are the rare, quite possibly, once in a lifetime situations that you dare not even imagine . . . but there I was. They were acknowledging the physical, emotional, and spiritual stress of the situation, and in some way, their comment was meant to be a statement of comfort – “I’m praying for you.” At that moment, I coveted that prayer and the prayers of others. Since the moment I knew the event was coming, I had been in a state of fasting and prayer. I needed God to work; I needed him to walk me through that service.
Where Am I?
There are moments in our lives that we find ourselves in a place that is less than desirable. They are not necessarily times of great turmoil, but we long to be elsewhere. Maybe it is a period of suffering, a period of sorrow, or a point where our theology is being put to the test. That day, it seemed like these three periods were colliding.
We must acknowledge that evil exists in this world, and because of this evil, there is suffering. People do horrendous things, and we enter into situations that inflame our sinful nature. Sometimes the events that fan the flames of our fleshy tendencies are small, and in hindsight are inconsequential. Jesus told his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) Can you imagine what was going through the disciples’ minds? They had no idea of the suffering and persecution they would face. At that point, they did not know the sorrow and disappointment that would come on the day of Christ’s crucifixion.
The truth is, when we read through Scripture, we understand that we live in a fallen world that stands opposed to God. The accounts of Abel, Job, Daniel, Noah, Joseph, Paul, Peter, and Stephen affirm that suffering is real. This list is but a small representation of the people of God suffering in a world condemned by sin. This world is the world in which we live.
Where is God?
The psalmist writes in Psalm 139:7-11 that there is no place we can escape the presence of God. Jeremiah 23:23-24 reads, “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” God is present. However, he is not just present; God is active. God is not a being that stands idly by, observing his creation. He is actively involved and intimately acquainted with every aspect of our lives.
We learn in Scripture that Christ upholds everything (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17). The idea that he upholds all things is accompanied by the truth that he directs all things (Eph 1:11). It is only by the power of God that the grass grows (Ps. 104:14) and there is no chance or coincidence – “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Prov 16:33) God is intimately involved in everything that takes place on earth. There is nothing that escapes his vision, and there is nothing that occurs out of his control.
We have fancy words for this in theology. We tend to talk about God’s sovereignty and his providence. The first attribute means he is the ultimate authority and over all things; the second addresses his intimate involvement in all things. We trust in these two ideas because we also uphold that God is good and righteous in all that he does.
What About Where I Am?
It is easy to teach concepts, but our circumstances often challenge the truths we hold. This situation is where I found myself that day. Were there a million other places I would have rather been? Yes. I long for a day there is no more suffering and death is no more. I want evil to be vanquished once and for all. My desire is for the New Heaven and New Earth – encompassed by the glory of God, unhindered by the presence of sin – but that is not today.
Today I will face suffering and sorrow, pain and agony. The reality of a sinful world will challenge the longing of my heart. The theological truths I hold will be forced into action by the presence of evil and deception of sin. So where do I want to be?
As the gears of my mind and heart continued to turn over the statement made, I realized I desired to be where God wanted me to be. There was a reason I was in that place, at that time. This reason did not remove the pain, and it did not lessen the suffering. The physical reality of the situation did not change because of the spiritual truth of the situation. However, when we embrace the spiritual truth of the circumstance, there is hope in our physical conditions.
What is that hope? It is the hope of a loving Father bringing all things toward his good and perfect purpose through the Gospel. It is this hope (an expectation of certainty) that enables me to trust him. It is this hope that lets me see a purpose in every circumstance of life. At times, there are a million other places I would rather be, but being where God desires is a desire that deafens all others.