Sunday, January 28, 2007

Where was God?

I must confess that I have been reluctant to write about my family tragedy. Death is a private affair, and yet Kelly’s death has been so very public, if the thousands of cards, calls, letters and emails are any indication. My reticence is largely due to the fact that I am still trying to make sense of Kelly’s death. I am still numb and disoriented. My days are little more than sleep walking.

Through the emotional fog, one thing has taken firm shape in my mind, namely the necessity to be honest with myself and with God. So Carolyn and I made the decision to talk about the “elephant in the room”—Where was God? Or to put the question more directly, where was God when Kelly was freezing to death on Mt. Hood?

Let me be clear—I am not calling God to account. God does not report to me. But it is an honest question posed from a broken heart. To my mind, to ask this kind of question is itself an act of faith. It presupposes a genuine relationship in which a mere creature can actually engage the Creator. If I can call Him “Abba,” can’t I humbly ask why He did not come to Kelly’s rescue? Not to ask this question—and other hard questions—would be a failure to take God seriously.

So, where was God? I don’t know. I don’t know. I may never know. Perhaps the biggest challenge for my faith is to come to terms with what Luther called the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus). We contemporary Christians do not like to admit God sometimes hides from us. But David was unafraid to ask: “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1).

As far as I know, God never answered David. However, the most astonishing and perplexing thing about David’s unanswered question was not that he had such questions but that God made the unanswered question a part of Israel’s worship for generations. It boggles my mind to imagine the people of Israel singing a chorus of “Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?” every year, century after century, millennium after millennium. And the question is still here for us to read and sing today. These are gut-wrenching questions and, I suspect, they should be read and sung with tears.

I am still trying to make sense of Kelly’s death. I don’t know why God did not rescue Kelly from the cold grip of the mountain. What I do know so far is that it is OK to ask: Where was God?


Sunday, January 21, 2007

What We Saw On The Mountain

The Oregonian (Portland’s newspaper) ran an article this week paying tribute to Sheriff Wampler—a man my family will never forget for putting his heart and soul into the search for Kelly, Brian and Nikko.

The article got me thinking again about the overwhelming response of people around the nation to the crisis on Mt. Hood. How does one explain such a phenomenon? Even people who got caught up in the suspense had a hard time figuring out what had drawn them in and why they cared so much about three men they didn't even know. Yet they watched anxiously and prayed throughout the ordeal. They wept along with the families when searchers located Kelly, then wept again when the rescue effort for Brian and Nikko shifted to recovery. Many tell me they are still grieving, even now.

I have wondered a lot about this myself and while I still don’t fully understand why this event captivated the nation, here are some of my initial thoughts about what happened.

First (and the Sheriff Wampler article brought this to mind) it seemed to me that for a brief moment in time we glimpsed on Mt. Hood something of the way things were meant to be. With three men in trouble, scores of people banded together to do whatever they could to rescue them. It didn’t seem to matter that they didn’t know the climbers or that many were strangers to each other. They were solidly united in one purpose: to get to the three climbers as soon as they could.

It was, I think, a riveting embodiment of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan—multiplied by the numbers of searchers heading for the slopes, flying overhead, piecing together available clues left behind by the three men, and caring for the families.

Some may find this surprising, but the media entered into the caring too. Frank told me many eyes brimmed with tears during news conferences. After the cameras were off, several of them came up to him and gently told him they were praying or that they hoped things would turn out well. Early on, when Frank was doing a CNN interview in the cold, a reporter offered his gloves. Afterwards, when Frank attempted to return them, the reporter insisted that he keep them. Frank had many heartfelt conversations with media representatives that I know he won’t forget.

In a world of fierce competition, biting adversarial exchanges, and endless violence, this was at least for me an unforgettable example of the “love your neighbor as yourself” way God means for His image bearers to live together. That alone is reason for us to feel drawn to the story.

But second, I think what made the story so gripping was the fact that it was also about God. We heard words of faith and hope in God and statements about prayer that amazingly were transmitted uncensored over the airwaves. It seemed to strike a chord with many people, and I wonder if that doesn’t reflect the spiritual hunger in our souls—an inbuilt desire to know God and to reconnect with Him.

All I know is that when it was over, people's hearts were deeply touched and many still wanted to hear more about hope and faith, and that can only be a good thing.


You can read the article on Sheriff Wampler at: (

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sleepless in Orlando

Last night before I went to bed, I visited a couple of Internet blogs where self-described agnostics are dissecting what happened on Mt. Hood and deriding statements Frank made about God and faith and hope, given the tragic outcome. It probably wasn’t the best thing for me to do before trying to fall asleep. I felt the sting of their remarks about the absurdity of faith and their conviction that we are simply fooling ourselves to believe in God. After I crawled into bed, I lay awake feeling saddened and humiliated by the whole discussion.

What helped me sleep, oddly enough, wasn’t figuring out some clever argument to convince them God exists and we are right to trust Him no matter what happens. Rather, what helped me was realizing I’m in good company. People made fun of the psalmist when God didn’t rescue him from trouble. He felt like God had forgotten him. His enemies picked up on this and tormented him, taunting, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3, 10).

One of the strongest incentives we have to be honest and open about our struggles with God comes from the fact that Bible is so honest. You’d think that a book intended to promote faith in God would edit out moments where God lets His people down and they become the butt of their enemies’ jokes. Instead, the Bible is loaded with stories of people—like King David, Job, Naomi, Jonah, Habakkuk, and Jesus’ disciples, to name a few—who were disappointed, frustrated, confused, and angry with God and couldn’t make sense of what He was doing. In fact, most of the Bible is about God’s people scratching their heads in bewilderment, exploding with anger at God over something He did or didn’t do, or having their faith stretched to the breaking point.

We may be embarrassed. We may feel like things have gone terribly wrong and we’ve been left looking foolish for trusting in God. Amazingly God doesn't share our embarrassment. He doesn’t shy away from situations that make Him look bad, but openly and without apology puts these messy circumstances out in the open for everyone to see. He does that in His Word. He does that in our lives—both in our personal struggles and publicly on Mt. Hood.

Somehow, this is part of the journey of faith—an important way God often draws us in to look more closely at Him, jolts us out of our polite, pious conversations with Him, and engages us in a real relationship. This is (at least for me) a good starting point—to know I’m not alone. This path—painful and confusing as it is—is well-worn by the footsteps of God’s people through the ages. Given the history of God's people, we should not be surprised to find ourselves here.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Unfinished Business

When Frank and I returned home last week from Kelly’s funeral, I was thinking that (except for a couple of final notices) this blog had pretty much served its purpose and should simply go to sleep. The rescue effort is over. Three grieving families have gone home. The media packed up their cameras and microphones and moved on to other stories. There really didn’t seem to be much more to say. Now I’m not so sure.

It is a worn out metaphor, I know, but after all has been said and done, there is an elephant in the room—a big, glaring, cumbersome load of uncomfortable questions that, to be honest, most of us prefer to ignore. But to stop here and not face head-on the uncomfortable issues that this crisis has raised—raised in public, no less—is to turn away from the central issue of this entire ordeal and cheat ourselves of the kind of honest reflection we all need.

Looking back over what happened, anyone can see that we were set up for a miracle. All the pieces were in place. We had a desperate crisis. SAR experts were on the scene, well-equipped, ready and eager to tackle the mountain—willing to risk their lives to bring the missing climbers safely home. Resources, technology and volunteers poured in from all directions. Family members boldly spoke words of faith on network television. “Courage and hope”—how we clung to those words. God’s people everywhere mobilized to pray. Media cameras zoomed in and all America watched.

Yet, to our great dismay, there was no miraculous clearing of the skies. No stilling of the storms. No stopping of the winds. Instead, blizzards moved in with record fury, driving rescue workers off the mountain for the most critical days of the search. Everyone poured themselves into the effort and, to be completely honest, it seemed as though the only one who didn’t cooperate in the whole rescue operation was God.

The book of Job opens with a man of faith on his knees and a God who seems to work against the prayers of His child. It is utterly mind boggling, but after only two chapters faithful, righteous Job’s whole life stands in ruins. But the book doesn't stop there. It goes on—for forty more chapters—to talk about the elephant in the room. Where was God when disaster fell? Why didn’t He step in and do something? What kind of God is He anyway? Are we wasting our time to put our faith in Him if He turns His back when we’re in trouble and crying out for His help?

Some of us are already wrestling with these questions—not just in the situation involving Kelly, Brian and Nikko, but in our private struggles with unanswered prayer and lives that are filled with disappointments, heartache, and loss. Our troubles mean these questions are personal, not academic. Much is at stake for all of us. We want to understand the God who holds our lives in His hands and whose ways so often defy our understanding.

And so, for a while, this blog is going to continue. I think we have some unfinished business that we all need to address. I hope you will stick with us—not with the expectation of getting all your questions answered, but with the intent of being honest with God, with how life looks, with what faith in God is all about. These questions are under discussion in our home. I want to take the conversation online. Frank will be joining us. I think a lot of us are interested in hearing his thoughts on these matters.

If you have questions you’d like discussed in this forum, feel free to raise them in the comments. We can’t promise to cover everything, but we want to at least try to take this discussion to the next level.

May God meet us as we struggle to understand Him,