PINK Tuesdays have become, for Pink Shoes Ministries, an opportunity to unearth the treasures which are often buried deep beneath the surface of our ordinary lives. These treasures are often the byproduct of tragedy, tension, struggle and loss; treasures that are often left undiscovered, having been covered with layer upon layer of life’s sedimentary deposits. Treasures that, when excavated, turn out to be priceless artifacts; pointing to God’s ongoing, healing work in the wake of life’s natural disasters.
Many of us are still reeling from last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Streaming CNN into our living rooms, we’ve seen the video and photos. We’ve heard the raw and gut-wrenching testimonies of loss. Even when we leave the house, we find ourselves looping these stories and pictures in our heads, illustrating scenes of devastation beyond our comprehension. The faces of frightened and heartbroken survivors are etched into the synapses of our brains. And of course, the inevitable question flashes like neon in the night:
Where is God in all of this?
Where is God when the literal (and figurative) swells overwhelm us?
Where is God when the lives and livelihood of the innocent are washed out to sea?
Whether we’ve been personally affected by this tragedy or are taking it personally from a distance, we find ourselves lost in the aftermath, looking for God in the rubble.
Let’s be honest, though. It’s hard to get past these questions when, as my friend Janine said this week, “people don’t see God as someone who dwells in the debris, the aftermath, the dirt, the nuclear waste…”
There’s an unsettling irony in the aftermath of tragedy: that the God who created the earth and everything in it, who called His creation “good,” is as present in the sunrise and the springtime blossoms as He is in the contaminated tides that ebb and flow, carrying the debris of lives lost and homes destroyed to a deep and watery grave.
Who among us isn’t living in the aftermath of something? Cancer. Divorce. Death. Job loss. Bankruptcy. Accidents. Bad choices. Disappointment. Natural disasters. The Bible recounts story after story about people who found themselves in the aftermath of something. There’s a pattern here, in scripture, that I’m noticing for the first time. I believe that I’m noticing it so that I can share it with you.
In the aftermath of rejection and betrayal by those closest to him, his brothers, Joseph rose to take his place as the one whose leadership saved the lives of nations. Joseph was sold into slavery, set up by his employer’s wife, sent to prison on trumped up charges, and yet he found himself second in command as he lived in the wake of these painful personal storms. Genesis 37:18ff
In the aftermath of death threats and being hunted by King Saul, David not only rose to the position of king but was also known to be “a man after God’s own heart.” David was literally on the run to save his life, suffering from lack of peace at every turn. Unable to tell the difference between friend or foe, he lived this part of his life in fear, sleeping with one eye open and one ear to the ground. When he woke from this extended nightmare, he found himself in a position of great influence, privilege and God-given power. I Samuel 18:6ff
In the aftermath of war, Daniel was hauled off to Babylon where he would live out his days in exile. His name was changed. His beliefs were challenged and his religious practices outlawed. He was persecuted along with his people, foreigners in a distant land. Yet even Daniel, in the wake of political and religious unrest, rose to become a leader and trusted advisor to the king. Daniel chapter 1ff
And then there was Elijah. The prophet Elijah, used powerfully by God, saw to it that the entire contingent of so-called ‘prophets’ of the no-god Baal were silenced in one afternoon at Mt. Carmel. As a result, the vindictive Jezebel issued a death warrant for Elijah, which sent him running for his life.
Elijah arrives at Mt. Horeb after forty days and nights of running away, and he is spent. Depressed. Ready to lay down and die. He tells God:
“I’ve been working my heart out for [You]… The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” I Kings 19:10 (The Message)
God gives Elijah some pretty specific instructions at this point. He tells Elijah to:
“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” I Kings 19:11 (NIV)
Don’t miss what happened next:
“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.” I Kings 19:11b-13a (The Message)
God wasn’t in the hurricane wind that destroyed everything in its path.
God wasn’t in the earthquake that shook the mountain.
God wasn’t in the heat or flame of the fire.
God was in the AFTERMATH. The still, small voice in the aftermath.
And in the aftermath of the winds, the earthquake and fire, God spoke to Elijah. God told Elijah where to go and what to do. God lifted him out of the aftermath of fear and hopelessness and gave him a purpose and a calling.
In the aftermath, God spoke. And in the aftermath, Elijah rose to complete the work God had given him to do.
Maybe when we ask the question, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ we need to remember Elijah’s story.
Maybe God wasn’t in the earthquake that triggered the tsunami that caused death and destruction and chaos on the shores of Japan.
Maybe God Himself is present in the aftermath; the quiet, gentle whisper that we can only hear once the storm swells have stilled and the fires have been put out. The gentle touch of the rescue worker. The quiet voices of strangers sharing space in emergency shelters. The tearful whispers to family members over the phone.
And if God, our God, is God of the Aftermath, then maybe He wasn’t in the cancer, or the automobile accident, or the pink slip, or the divorce decree. Maybe we had to experience those storms in order to be able to hear His voice as He speaks to us now, easing our fears and raising our hopes, giving us a purpose and clearer sense of call. Strengthening us to complete the work He has given us to do. In this world. On this day.
In the aftermath.