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Where is God in the night sky?
Where is God in the city light?
Where is God in the earthquake?
Where is God in the genocide?
Where are you in my broken heart?
Everything seems to fall apart
Everything feels rusted over
Tell me that you're there.
(lyrics from "Vice Verses" by Switchfoot)
I love that title track from Switchfoot’s new album, “Vice Verses.” Where is God in the midst of this or that event? Where is God in the hungry and malnourished child? Where is God as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Where is God in … ? Who hasn’t asked such a question a time, or a thousand times, before? Some have even disbelieved in God because they couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer to the question, “Where are you, God?” More often than not, I don’t have an answer either, but I know that God is there, even when nothing around me seems to make much sense.
As I thought about all this again, I was reminded of some notes I had written some time ago in the margins of a journaling Bible that I own. They are based on a portion of Haggai. Haggai is only two chapters long and is known as one of the “Minor Prophets.” Here is Haggai 1: 3-11 as read in the ESV:
Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and have harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts? Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”
Now, I have many more questions here than I have answers. Where is God in the midst of calamity? Where is God when everything seems to go so wrong? In the same way, have you ever wondered why many of us seem to always be struggling to get ahead in life? Where is God in this? Why do we work and work and never seem to have enough? While I used to often reflect on that, I think I may finally have a “little” more clarity and peace on this subject than I used to. The answer for me is now, at least partially, summed up in two words: 1) Choices, and 2) Consequences.
However, before we go any further, a quick caveat is in order. I am in no way suggesting that earthquakes and genocides and such (as in Switchfoot’s lyrics) are as a result of our choices and consequences thereof in life. I also realize that there are those who are steeped in poverty in many parts of the world, and that they are in those circumstances through no fault of their own. I am not talking about them. I have lived in the third world amidst abject poverty and as such have some understanding of it.
What I am primarily referring to is the common attitude of most (but certainly not all) capitalistic-minded North Americans. Why do they never seem to have enough? I am convinced that it is often because of the choices we make and consequences of those choices. Why do the poorest of the nations poor never seem to have enough? In this case it is not because of their choices, but I would argue, also again because of the “Me” hoarding attitude of the wealthier western nations who talk the talk of feeding and caring for the hungry, but who do relatively little about it.
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God said through Haggai, “consider your ways,” and again, “consider your ways” (1:5,7). He said it twice within two little verses. Forgive me for sounding sarcastic, but could it be that just maybe, it’s important? Could it be that just maybe we should “consider our ways?” I mean, what if God means exactly what He said He means? Let’s not over analyze this too much. What if He means, “Consider your ways?” Hmm.
Is the answer to our question of not having enough found in one of Haggai’s own questions? He asked, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4; ESV)? Are we also, as in Haggai’s day, so preoccupied with building our homes and our lives, while the temple of God remains in ruins? Have fancy houses, bank accounts, careers, man-toys and tropical vacations, all somehow trumped the things of God in our pseudo-Christian society?
Let’s back up a little. I am not suggesting a return to ancient Israel’s temple-based worship; far from it. So if not that, then what are we talking about? Well let me ask you, what is the temple of God today? Paul answers that question for us in 1 Corinthians 3:16,17. He says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Wow. That sounds serious! It doesn’t sound like a whole lot of gray area there, does it? There are at least two ways of looking at this; individually and corporately.
So this all begs a couple more questions. Individually, how many of us really take care of our “temples?” Too many of us drink too much, smoke too much, are bordering on obesity, and generally don’t give much consideration to our “temples” at all. Our diets are all messed up with all the wrong kinds of foods. Most of us don’t get anywhere near enough exercise. We’re preoccupied with everything, it seems, but with the things of God. Are not our “temples,” that is our physical bodies, just as important to God as our spiritual selves? At the very least, that does seem to be what Paul is implying. It’s great to focus on our individual spiritual walks, but what about our physical walks?
Secondly, when we look at this corporately, what about the physical walks of the world’s less fortunate? Are not their bodies as much a part of the “temple” as our bodies are? Dare we make a separation between them and us? Are we not all a part of the Body of Christ, the “temple” of God? Where is God in the social injustice of the west getting fat in her riches while the poor child starves in the less fortunate nations? Shouldn’t that be important too? Are we guilty by association of our western birthplaces of destroying that poorer part of God’s “temple?” I wonder.
Permit me to ask another question: Have we screwed up our priorities? I know that I often have, and I am not proud of it! But then we wonder why we never seem to have enough (Haggai 1:6) and why God sometimes allows the destroyer to attack our “temples” with sicknesses and, we think, premature death (1 Corinthians 3:17). Could it be because we have forsaken His “temple?” Could it be because we have failed miserably in the global “one anothering” department? God said in our Haggai text that He actually withheld the dew, the produce, and generally the good things in life (Haggai 1: 10-11). Why? It seems that the answer is because of our screwed up priorities. Does that not speak to the earlier question of choices and consequences? Hmm, I wonder.
We had it all! We were blessed beyond measure. There was more than enough for everyone. If only we had shared with the less fortunate, we all would have been fed. Instead, we chose to gather more manna than we were permitted to, and because we hoarded it, it began to rot and fill with maggots (Exodus 16:20). Now, not only do the poorer nations not have anything, ironically we too, who once seemed to hold all the manna stock, now never seem to have enough ourselves. Our wealth has begun to rot around us. As in Haggai’s day, has God once again begun to hold back the blessings, this time from us, because His “temple” (His people…globally), are in ruins? I wonder.
Why do we do everything so backwards all the time? Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33; ESV). What ought our first preoccupation be? Shouldn’t it be the care of all mankind as opposed to only a select few? How ought we to prioritize our lives? What do we “really” seek first? “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” Are we preoccupied with building our worldly lives to such an extent that the things of God are playing only second fiddle? Are the things of God even in our musical repertoires at all? Hmm, I certainly wonder some times. The Apostle Paul said,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12: 1-2; ESV).
Thankfully God loves us dearly. Thankfully in Jesus, we are already made perfect. Thankfully on the cross Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Thankfully there is nothing more for you and I to do. Thankfully, all that is true and, thankfully, all that will never change. Thankfully Jesus is in us and we are in Him. Thankfully, it is all a done deal. Praise God! Where is God? He is right where He has always been. Though you and I have sometimes left the bus, He has never gone anywhere. I may not understand what tomorrow holds, but I do know who holds it. And that is good enough for me.
Still, God does not change (Malachi 3:6). Our lives on this rock called Earth are still susceptible to consequences from the choices we make. After all, God made us that way; He gave each of us a free will to choose. If because of the choices we make, we live to be 100 or die at 20, that in no way changes God’s love. Good Christians can still make bad choices and bad Christians can still make good choices. For example, God loves and will forgive the sexually promiscuous teenage girl, but the consequences of her promiscuity may still be there by way of an unwanted pregnancy or disease. God loves and will forgive the rich North American whose hoarding of the manna resulted in the starving African child. But the consequences of that hoarding is rot and maggots to such an extent that even many North Americans ironically no longer “seem” to have enough.
Maybe that’s what God meant when He said through Haggai, “consider your ways.”