by John W. Ritenbaugh
CGG Weekly, March 18, 2005
"Affliction comes to the believer not to make him sad, but sober; not to make him sorry, but wise."
Henry Ward Beecher
Shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, I wrote a brief column because so many were asking, "Where was God?" implying, "Why did He allow such an event to occur?" Perhaps a few made outright accusations such as, "How could He be so cruel?" but mostly it was implied. Clearly, people's concepts of God suffered a major blow and doubts about Him mushroomed because what happened did not conform to their perception of how He should act.
Now a grievous tragedy has occurred within the church, and some church members are again asking, "Where was God?" Undoubtedly, their attitudes are different from those in the world who asked this in 2001, but there is still perplexity. However, this time people seem to be making a greater attempt to perceive the cause of what or who provoked it.
Their questions suggest a measure of a lack of knowing God. Almost everybody in America has some knowledge of God, but in most cases, it is so shallow as to be embarrassing. It is so bad that God records in Hosea 4:6 that His people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Perhaps above all, we do not want doubts about God's judgment, love, goodness, and wisdom rising in His children's minds. Neither do we want people merely to accept what God does without understanding. Though that understanding may never be complete, there should be enough to know that what happened was not only rightly allowed by God but also will ultimately result in good.
It is impossible for God not to do everything in love, for He is love (I John 4:8, 16). Love is the driving force of His personality and character; it is present in His every thought, attitude, word, plan, and judgment, and manifests itself in acts of goodness. Though He becomes angry, His perspective is never skewed; His conduct is always righteous and in the best interest of all concerned. In addition, His wisdom is of such magnitude as to far excel even Solomon's vaunted understanding. He knows the end from the beginning, and therefore He always knows what to do. The timing of His actions is exquisite. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 11:33, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out."
I read a number of comments from the Ambassador Watch website and was fascinated by how many people thought they knew the exact cause and who to blame for this painful tragedy. Do they have a direct pipeline to God so that they completely understand His mind on this event? It was interesting how few of the writers placed the responsibility where it rightfully belongs—on the killer. Did anybody in the Living Church of God, besides him, pull the trigger?
We are deeply saddened by the loss of our brethren in Wisconsin and pray for the surviving family members and friends of the victims. We are greatly comforted by the fact that God is in control of all things. In fact, He was right there in Brookfield, Wisconsin, even as He was on the scene when He permitted Lazarus to die and Jesus—His own Son!—to be crucified. God is in control of His creation. He knows exactly where He is headed, and it is part of His character to act in this way when circumstances demand it. The Bible faithfully records other times when God acted "shockingly" in events that riveted His people's attention. Recall Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons, whom God slew even as they were serving in His Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). Remember Uzza, whom God killed before David's eyes, while both David and Uzza believed they were serving Him (I Chronicles 13:10). In the New Testament, God slew Ananias and Sapphira before the brethren of the young church. Luke records that great fear came upon all the church (Acts 5:11).
We know what caused God to act in those cases because He tells us. But to whom has He given the answer in this case, which He, at the very least, has permitted? It is good for us to understand Jesus' advice in Luke 13:1-5, when He used two local tragedies to illustrate that the victims were no greater sinners than others were and that those hearing of the tragedies were responsible to repent lest they perish.
God may have had twenty reasons why He allowed this tragedy to occur. No accusation of ours will come anywhere close to catching the love, discernment, wisdom, and righteousness of God's judgment. It is an exercise in futility for us even to attempt to pinpoint the exact cause(s). However, this does not mean we must not judge. This is now a time of self-examination because we cannot eliminate ourselves from being part of the cause, even though we may not be fellowshipping with the corporate body called the Living Church of God.
The church of God is a spiritual body not contained within one corporate organization. If I am a part of the church, I most certainly can be part of the cause. We need to do what the first-century Christians did when Ananias and Sapphira were struck down: Great fear came upon them all. Now is a time for us to search ourselves, judge ourselves, and turn our attitudes and conduct toward God. It behooves us to take advantage of the warning shot across the bow given to the entire church.
God gives us fair warning in I Peter 4:12-17:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Most of you have been praying for those directly affected by this terrible tragedy. We have, and it is our hope that you will continue to do so. This has been very painful for those who are most directly affected, and enduring it has just begun. It will be a while before the shock of this subsides and is finally lifted. We offer our sympathies and continued prayers for those who are grieving—and for the Living Church of God in general—that they will open themselves to God's healing encouragement, knowing that He is still on His throne and is with them, hearing their prayers and guiding them toward His Kingdom.