This past week we witnessed the results of what The New York Times called “The Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria.” News coverage included real time footage of babies, little children, women and men writhing in pain, choking and straining to breathe. I cannot even fathom the horror people in that hate-ravaged region must be going through as yet another attack is leveled against a people who have known nothing but war and destruction for so long. Seemingly hours later another act of so-called “soft terrorism” rammed its way onto the streets of Stockholm. Then, suicide bombers attacked two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday.
Even though Syria, Sweden and Egypt are another world away from our own, many of us want to help somehow. Perhaps like me, you want to reach out, embrace and provide relief. You want to proclaim hope to the grieving fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers who face atrocities aimed at destroying every ounce of their humanity.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, there are times when we would rather build a barricade to wall off the brutality. Yet the haunting images of dying children linger.
As North American Missiologist I read scads of books, enjoy considering the deep things of God and have devoted my life to the mission of God. I write articles, I’m attempting a dissertation and I theologize with the goal of “faith seeking understanding.” Then, terrorism like this happens, again, and rattles the core of my faith. The tension between the ugliness of sin and the beauty of the gospel ties knots in my soul; studied answers for the questions that arise seem inadequate and hollow.
This morning as I wrestled with this current reality, I turned to the book of Psalms where I find similar searching questions to my own, along with a description of wickedness eerily similar to that which played out in the Syrian desert, the Stockholm street or the Egyptian place of worship:
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him, all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’ His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; for all his foes he puffs at them. He says in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.’
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like the lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’ (Psalm 10:1–11)
Oh how often it seems like God is distant and aloof from the ever-present trouble in the world. Sometimes, like David the psalmist, I am tempted to wonder if God has forgotten the Syrian mother who lost her children, the Swedish brother who lost his mother or the Egyptian believer who lost his family and friends. The tension is very real, and it is important that we do not grow numb to tragedy. The Scriptures urge us through the example of those who have gone before to press into God with our questions and enter into the pain of others, to cry out to God and lament the wickedness in the world.
The psalm continues with a pattern for bold intercession, replacing dark doubt with the powerful truth of God’s intimate and merciful presence, providing a battle cry for God’s justice:
Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the afflicted and evildoers; call his wickedness to account till you find none” (Psalm 10:12–16).
God is not forgetful and far off, oblivious and uninvolved; he sees, he knows. We need this reminder. In the midst of calamity he supports the helpless and helps the fatherless, and holds every brazen evildoer accountable. So, although we are far from the Syrians’ reality, God is not. We can pray on their behalf that in their helplessness they will turn to God, so that in their sorrow and loss, God’s presence and hope will prevail.
We can put our faith in him because, as the psalmist acknowledges, “He is the king forever and ever.” Let that truth soak into your being. He is king forever and ever. Although the fulfillment of his kingdom is yet to come, we stand firm on the truth that he reigns right now, therefore like the psalmist we can proclaim with confidence,
The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his hand. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:16–18)
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Image Credit: Voice of America, Wikimedia Commons