One of the first tragedies I ever dealt with in my life, was the tragic car accident that claimed the life of one of the young girls in the church I pastored several years ago. She was a beautiful, vibrant, lover of God. I will never forget that phone ringing at 4 A.M. As I stumbled half asleep to take the call, my answering machine beat me to it and the peaceful silence of the night was no longer being violated by the rings of the phone, but by the cries of a grandmother shouting without explanation, "She's gone! Daniel, she's gone!" For the next twelve hours or so we sat in that grandmothers house, stupefied. Like a collective body of soulless individuals whose lives had not only been tragically interrupted, but whose very consciousness did not even seem real. The only thing that broke the silence were those moments when we simply had to put it together. What had happened in those final minutes of her trip home? It must have been the rain, right? She might have fallen asleep? We shouldn't have let her stay out so late. She was supposed to be home earlier. That car was just too small for anyone to survive a car crash in. If only I had went with her that night. And behind of all those thoughts was the question we all were asking but dare not utter: "Where was God?"
In his haunting book Night, Elie Wiesel writes about the trials and daily life he lived as a Jew in the German concentration camps. Surrounded by death, the very religious Jewish people struggled with God's role in all of it. In one of the most poignant and vivid scenes in the book, Weisel recounts the time when a young boy was hung for being too close to a plot to steal weapons from one of the storehouses on site. Hung between two full grown men, the little pipel, as he was called, hung struggling for his life far after the men that flanked him had died; for his weight was too light to strangle him properly.
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.If only Jesus had been there, Martha thought, this tragedy could have been averted. But now, her dead brother lie rotting in the tombs as her family was surrounded by wailing and great grief. But Jesus came. And Jesus wept.
Behind me, I hear the same man asking:
"For God's sake, where is God?"
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where-- hanging here from this gallows..."
This is not a passage in which the Beloved Disciple is trying to shape for us an image of Christ's humanity. Why would he? The entire aim of his gospel is to shows us that Jesus is God. And God wept. As He stood staring at the portrait of death in front of Him, the drama of wailing down the way from Him, and the crowd of those filled with fear and confusion behind Him: God wept. Facing death for the last time before He would face it for Himself: God wept. Seeing the tomb where his friend, the one he had loved with all of his heart, laid; having passed through death and now in a state of decay on a cold dark slab of earth: God wept. When Jesus wept He was not being human, he was being God. We weep because God weeps. And to be perfectly human is to be divine.
This is more than story about death and resurrection. This is a story of a God who was absent when He was needed the most. This is a story of tragedy, where those that loved God the most were left out in the cold in utter disbelief that in just a few days their once strong healthy brother had fallen victim to Adam's fate. And God did not show up in time to stop it.
I don't know why God stops some cars from hitting that tree they should have hit, but doesn't show up to save others from the same fate. I still am baffled by tragedies like those at Sandy Hook Elementary. I still don't know why God didn't save that sixteen year old girl that was full of life and a happy future from wrapping her little car around a large oak that night. But I do know that it makes me weep. And I know that God weeps. And somewhere in all the death and tragedy, while the world cries "Where is God?" He is here with us, suffering among us, hanging from our gallows, weeping in front of our coldest graves.