Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. (1 Kings 19:11-12)
In my estimation there is nowhere that God is not present, absolutely nowhere. Yet sometimes it would appear working out how God is present in God’s absence is important.
This week as I read these words of God’s absence in the wind and the cacophony and the earthquake and the fire I had a strong sense of the moments of violence that unfolded in Orlando earlier this week. God was not in the thunder and fire of that tragic, unconscionable moment when that man entered the night club and pressed his trigger. God was not in the storm of death and violence.
Yet to say that God is wholly absent is not enough when such tragic events occur. Does God not care? Do we have to wait for the sheer silence after the violence to find God?
When Jesus hung on the cross he cried “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” These words from Psalm 22 capture the desolation as the storm of death rages. In the violence of humanity against Jesus we find the echoes of God’s absence as once again there is a sound like thunder and an earthquake and a darkness that descends. Jesus experiences the absence of God.
Yet, Psalm 22 goes on to give us hope saying, God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one, God has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” God is present in the absence because God is in Christ himself for as Jesus says “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
Trying to make sense of the violence that has occurred, trying to justify or blame, is too hard. Sometimes, it is simply beyond out human capacity. What hope does our faith gives us? Possibly, it is that in the storm and violence of death God is with us in Christ on the cross. That though it may seem God is absent there is always a presence, even unto death.
Moreover, the promise of faith is that death is not the last word. In the still, sheer silence of the resurrection morn, when Jesus rose again, bearing the scars of his death he says to this violent world, “Peace be with you!”
So, for those who morn, for those who ask why, for those who find this act and some of the responses incomprehensible, let us hear and encounter the hope in Jesus words which transcend the violence of death and darkness of the grave: “Peace be with you!”
Peace be with you.