For those of you that don’t know, earlier in the summer I lead a group of 21 high school students on pilgrimage to Germany. While on our journey, we followed along with the journey of the Israelites as they left Egypt and wandered through the desert. Many hours were prayerfully spent making sure that we had a great spiritual plan for our pilgrimage. There was only one thing that we were unsure on how to treat it. Our last day in Germany we were going to Buchenwald Concentration Camp on Etter Mountain. Buchenwald was one of the first and largest concentration camps on German soil, opening about 4 years after Dachau. No matter how we looked at the spiritual overview for the trip, we always came back to one question, “What do we do with Buchenwald?” We knew that after spending nine days learning about God and then going to Buchenwald would be a very difficult experience. “Where was God when that was going?” If we were asking that question, we knew that everyone else would be thinking it as well.
Often times in our lives we are faced with difficult challenges or we hear things that just don’t seem fair.
We may find ourselves asking that question a lot sometimes. Recently, that is a question that has been on my mind. Not very long ago, I learned that a friend of mine, a very kind, and caring, young man…the kind of a person that is just fun to have around…was diagnosed with leukemia.
Where are you God?
These things happen…and we immediately ask why….why would something like this happen, how could God let this happen!? It’s not fair! It doesn’t make sense! Where are you God?!
This question is not a new one. It has been around for many many years. Since the beginning of evil, people have probably been asking the same question.
It is always tricky to answer this question for many reasons. One, because anytime it comes to religion it is a very personal, sensitive subject. Secondly, because answering a question like this may not be a shared belief and then it can spark a very long complicated theological argument (that unless you are so good at arguing and you can completely change someone’s belief system in a matter of minutes while keeping a calm head and being respectful and understanding their position all the while backing all of you sources and information with names and citations and avoiding the cliché response of ‘because the Bible says so’, because depending on who you are arguing with, that response doesn’t mean anything, and so on and so forth…)
Anyway, so one of my good friends is an atheist. As a cradle Episcopalian who has been a “professional Christian” for close to three years, we have had a number of conversations regarding religion. I will always remember one “conversation” we had a few years ago. “If you can tell me why God would allow something like the holocaust to happen, then I will be a Christian.”
Jump forward a few years and I find myself in Germany, at a concentration camp. The home of where true evil existed in the world…and I was still asking that same question.
Where are you God? Why….Why would you let that happen?
I have heard many different responses to these questions. The Rev. Sandy Webb preached on this topic during the final Eucharist of our pilgrimage. He preached on the image of a New Jerusalem ‘coming down out of heaven from God’ and defeating all evil and making everything new (Revelation 21). His concluding thoughts on the passage were that he did not know why. We don’t know why these things are allowed to happen but we can take faith in knowing that in the end, good will win. Evil may win a battle every now and then but ultimately God will always win.
I had these questions and that response on my mind for a few days after returning from Germany. I had a very short turn around before I packed my bags again and went to Hendersonville, North Carolina where I would be working at a middle school retreat at Kanuga Conference Center. About half way through the week, I was still struggling to understand and answer these questions I had from Buchenwald.
Where was God?
Just then, we began to sing in the large group room…it was a song I had sung a hundred times and knew by heart…but as I stood there surrounded by 80 middle schoolers, I not only verbally regurgitated these lyrics that I had memorized and could recite without a second thought… I read the words and actually listened to what the song was saying.
And just like that, I found my answer...
Where was God?
God was there.
Now when I think back to my time at Buchenwald, I know that they were not alone, God was with them, sharing in their pain.
Now as Adam embarks on his journey to fight leukemia, I know he is not alone, God is there.
God Was There
John L. Bell
When the wind on chaos blew, when the world from nothing grew,
When the primal dream came true, God was there.
When the earliest mortals talked, when the virgin land was walked,
When the emergent faith was rocked, God was there.
When the tradesmen was denied, when the Savior was decried, God was there.
God was there and not in vain, shielding joy and sharing pain.
Raising life to live again, God was there.
In each darkness, cloud, and fire, in the quiet as words retire,
In our lost and best desires, God is there.
Not for what we are or do, not for what we journey through,
But for all you call us to, God be there.