Recently within a few days I heard two people ask, “Where is God when we need God so much?” I understand the question. I’ve been asking it myself.
Where is God when a pandemic is ravaging our world? Where is God as we struggle with racism? Where is God when governmental leaders sow discord and distort truth?
Does God notice? Does God care?
I find instructive the Old Testament story of Job. After the devastating loss of his sons and daughters, cattle and servants, and then finding his body covered with loathsome sores, Job struggles with why these things have happened and where to find God in his suffering.
After speaking about his sense of God’s absence, Job says: “But he [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold” (Job 23:10).
Job has learned some things about himself and about God. He has gained some wisdom.
What if we, like Job, would look at this pandemic, the negativity of our politics and the unrest in our streets as a time of testing for our nation, for the church and for us personally?
How are we being tested? Let me suggest six ways.
1. Might God be testing whether we as Christians — and especially those of us who are accustomed to unearned privilege — expect always to prosper and be blessed? God may be testing us to see if we will only be faithful when things turn out to our liking. The real sign of faith is when we trust God even through suffering.
2. Might God be testing whether we think we are better than other peoples, races and nations and that our nation is exceptional? Do people in the United States live with arrogance and pride rather than a humble spirit?
3. Might God be testing our compassion and generosity for the poor? Have we learned to accept the huge disparity between the rich and the poor and, as long as we are not as wealthy as the super-rich, to think we are not part of the problem?
4. Might God be testing our latent racism in which those of us who are white participate in the systems that hold people of color down? Do many of us accept white privilege and fail to understand the meaning of Black Lives Matter?
5. Are we being tested about our view of this world God made and climate change? Do we treat the creation as if it is simply ours to enjoy and fail to fulfill our duty as stewards of the land, air, mineral resources and water?
6. Are we being tested whether our faith is in God or in the health-care advantages many of us enjoy? Is our faith in God or in an economy that works for our benefit, if we are among the privileged?
If we could see the time in which we now live as a test, might it make a difference in our response to the current turmoil? Some of us have learned to discount the words of our president and feel largely protected from the street protests, the racial injustices, the impact of climate change and maybe even the coronavirus pandemic.
But we still are responsible for how we live, for the choices we make and for bearing witness to our professed values of love and justice for all God’s people. Our hearts need to remain sensitive to injustice and open with compassion and love.
We can choose to keep a Christ-centered faith and to live out the succinct counsel of the prophet Micah, who spoke these simple and profound words: “He has told you, O Mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8).
We must be cautious in assuming we fully understand the Divine meaning of what is happening. Yet being open to the deeper meaning of what we experience is an important spiritual exercise. How are you being tested? What are you sensing or hearing during this season?
James M. Lapp is a retired Mennonite pastor and church executive who lives at Landis Homes in Lititz, Pa., with his wife, Miriam Book.