“Where is God in this story?” is a question religion majors here at OCU ask quite often. We are taught that this is one of the key exegetical questions to ask about a piece of Scripture. Why? Because it’s important to know the role of God in each story. It’s important to see how God is working in the midst of heartache, depression, conflict and persecution. It is also important to determine where God is when God doesn’t seem to be present in the book. For example, God is not mentioned one time in Esther, so where would God be?? Better yet, where is God in our story? Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if God isn’t present in our book? It seems that I am usually able to find God in a book of the Bible, but in my personal life… that’s another story. So where is God in my story? In our story?
These past two weeks have been crazy to say the least. This week we’ve been facing an insane election. Last week, here in Oklahoma, a powerful ice storm whipped through and took all of our electricity for days. There are people that are still out!! It was so sad to drive down the street to see so much destroyed. All of the trees still had leaves on them, so when the ice came, the trees were more weighed down and were destroyed. Not only that, but everything was dark. I would drive down the street at night with not a trace of light. Honestly, it kind of reminds me of this election week. There’s darkness encompassing us all with seemingly no trace of light. Everyone is angry and fighting. Every once in a while, I’ll see a post encouraging positivity, but even that makes people angry. People want to be mad and bitter right now, and they’re spreading the bitterness to the entire country. There is so much darkness. Where is God in it all?
I believe we are always subconsciously asking this question. When we’re going through hard times, we search for God whether we know it or not. God is in our inmost being, and though it may not seem like it sometimes, we NEED God. We cannot face life alone. God didn’t create this life for us to live it by ourselves. I mean think about it. Are we not always searching for meaning? We’re always wondering why bad things happen to us. We’re always curious to know where we’re supposed to go next. When we stand outside and see all of the beauty of nature, we’re intrigued with how something could be so perfect. We’re always searching for meaning. We’re always searching for God. God is the hope we’re searching for the bad times. God is in our future plans. God created nature and called it a masterpiece. We’re always searching for God whether we know it or not.
Even in this time, we’re looking for God. But if you’re anything like me, it’s been a hard search. The world just feels heavy. The great thing about the Bible is that biblical figures often related to us more than one may realize. Biblical figures were people too. Although they faced different struggles, they felt what we feel on a daily basis.
Paul is such an interesting person in the Bible. He was terrible when we first meet him. His name wasn’t even Paul. It was Saul. And Saul persecuted and killed early Christians for their beliefs in Jesus Christ. Early Christians avoided him because they knew he was a killer of Christians. But he changed. God changed him. Through an encounter with a man named Ananies, he converted to Christianity, the religion he persecuted. His name became Paul, and he became a devout follower of Christ, who went around spreading the good news. He went from the persecutor to being persecuted. Within Paul’s ministry, there were many times when he got in trouble by public officials for his proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. In one of these instances, Paul was with a man named Silas. They got in trouble and were locked away in prison.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer[e] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. – Acts 16:25-34
Rather than Paul and Silas, I want to focus on the jailer here. He was in a great darkness, so much so that he was about to kill himself. This man knew that he didn’t do his job successfully, and the authorities would kill him for it. He assumed it would be better to end his life himself. Darkness in our life leads us to do things that we otherwise would not. Sadly, sometimes it comes to ending it all for people, and I pray if you are at this point to please reach out to somebody and seek help. However, darkness can also cause us to be bitter, hostile and hateful. It can cause us to be people that we are not and do things we normally wouldn’t do. I believe this is exactly what is happening in our world right now. We are allowing the darkness to overtake us. The election, the in and out of quarantine, the deaths and the unexpecting nature of 2020 has caused turmoil within us. We are encompassed in darkness. So where is God in the story?
The story of the jailor didn’t end here. Paul and Silas stopped the jailor from ending his life. They gave him hope. They were God working in this story. They said, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here”. Paul and Silas weren’t the only ones there, so was God. When all hope was gone, God was there. And God is not just in this story. God is in our story too. Just because it is hard to see doesn’t mean that God isn’t here. Sometimes the greatest works were carried out in silence. Sometimes the silence remains for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean we are alone. God doesn’t just work in the loud, light-filled place. God works also in the silent, dark spaces of our lives.
There are times God calls us to search. There are times when I’m studying the Bible in class and really struggle to find God. But I keep looking until I do. Start searching in your own life. Don’t expect your faith to always be easy because it’s not. You’re called to seek and not give up, even when you don’t seem to hear from God for a really long time.
At the small group I help lead, one of the students mentioned how it was sad that all the trees were destroyed because of the ice storm. One of the other leaders came back and said, “But isn’t there something beautiful in them even though they’re broken?” Where is God? God is in the destruction and the heartache. God is in this election, no matter the turnout. God doesn’t leave, just because things don’t go the way we want. We can’t expect everything to be perfect. We can’t always expect everything to work out because the world is made up of humans. But that doesn’t mean that God is gone. God is still present and working, in the midst of the heartache.
Let’s start searching a little more and remember that God most definitely is in this story.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7