I stood in front of a group of students last week during an outdoor Bible study gathering. Something came out of my mouth that was not in the script: “2020 has been the worst year for our nation that I can ever remember in my forty years as an American.”
I have lived through 9/11, the 2008 economic collapse, the Gulf wars, and the chaos of 2016. Quite honestly, in my amateur opinion, none of them are close to 2020. The fear and death of Covid-19, the economic collapse resulting from quarantine, the anguish coming from racial injustices, and the chaos of riots have made for “next-level” misery for everyone.
Who in the world has not had a moment where he or she entertains this question: God, where are you?
This question pops up for many young people: God, where are you?
This question can go in two directions, one positive and the other negative. In a positive manner, the question conveys lament. The Bible calls us to take our pain, confusion, and doubt to the merciful and holy God. We know God to be so good and just. We know him to be so loving and kind. How can the world contain so much brokenness under our good and sovereign King? Lament of this type fills the Bible. Of the 150 psalms, 42 – that’s 28% — are laments. To lament to God is a good thing.
In a negative manner, this question can represent a young person looking in the wrong place to know the character of God. Deriving our views of God from our own experience and rationale constitutes the norm among sinners. The turning point in human history came from this epistemic error. (In theology, epistemology is the theology of knowing, specifically how we know about God.)
Before Adam and Eve ate from the tree, Eve wandered away from God’s revealed word and began trusting in her own experience and rationale. Genesis 3:6 reads, “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” She forgot about the goodness of God as he had revealed himself to Adam and Eve. She disregarded God’s verbalized command to not eat from the tree. Personal experience and rationale overruled the legitimate sources that should have informed Adam and Eve’s understanding of God.
The World Does Not Represent God
Right now, so many disturbing images and words flash before our students’ eyes. They see images of burning buildings, tear gas, body bags, shattered glass, screaming people, etc. They see graphs of unemployment numbers, inflated grocery prices, and economic decline. Most of them have seen a video of a human being suffocate under the knee of another person.
Even if they have not been exposed directly to these current events, they have seen difficulty in their own lives. They see masks, canceled events, and FaceTime instead of face-to-face. They have seen the inside of their own home more than they ever wanted to.
It is worth remembering the natural inclination of human epistemology. We naturally formulate our views of God based on experience and rationale. Young people certainly have this tendency as they are moving toward spiritual maturity.
Thus, now more than ever, we have to point them to the face of God, which we see in Christ. Paul refers to Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The author of Hebrews refers to him as the “exact representation” of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). Our accurate source for determining the character of God is in God’s means of revelation. We answer the question, “God where are you?” by looking to his word and to Christ.
In pointing kids to seeing the face of God in the person of Jesus Christ, we would do well to point them to the gospel events themselves. By this I mean the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel message of God’s mercy and redemption for sinners through Christ can never be proclaimed too much. Simultaneously, at a time when students are seeing so many powerful, disturbing images that seem to contradict the goodness of God, the images of the gospel events restore our confidence.
Like the images of current events, the gospel events are concrete. We can see Jesus dying on the cross. We can hear him crying out, “It is finished.” We can see him resurrected in the body. We can hear the witnesses proclaim, “The Lord is risen.”
The gospel events comprise just one aspect of how God has revealed himself to us. God’s full revelation is best seen in the whole revelation of his word. At the same time, the cross and resurrection are the strongest visible evidence of God’s goodness and love.
Let us put the gospel message and the gospel events frequently in front of our young people during these hard times that they may have an encouraging, true answer to the question, “God where are you?” He is on his throne, and he is with us now.