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?

FAJ

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

God Bless you, Frank. I imagine this is a terribly difficult thing to get over. I cried when they found Kelly dead and I don't even know him. I know so many that were praying for them and for you and your family. Is it possible that God was with Kelly? Is it possible that God needed Kelly? Even though the outcome was not as we had wished is it possible that God has a completely different plan than the one we had envisioned? I ask these questions honestly as I have wondered why God would take from us three men who gave and lived so much.
If you ever get the chance to read Tear Soup I encourage you to. It is a very short book about grieving and it is wonderful. I will continue praying for you and your family, Frank.

Anonymous said...

We also need to ask the question where is God in Darfur, Iraq, New Orleans, or any of the countless places that people are suffering and dying? I'm sure that there are people in those places that are asking the same question...WHERE IS GOD?

Could it be that God is just an idea and not a "being" with the power to grant wishes? I do believe in God (more as a spiritual idea then an actual sentient being), and I believe that we are given life and free will, what we do with it is up to us, sometimes the result is not what we would hope for.

These three men died doing what they loved doing, God was with them, but the weather wasn't, and the outcome was tragic.

I hope these comments are taken in the spirit that they are given, I am just another seeker trying to understand God, at the moment this is my understanding.

I will continue to read this blog and participate in the conversation as I hold all of you in my thoughts while you journey through the grieving process.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought. It could have been Kelly's prayers that were answered. He may have asked God to spare him from suffering long out there in the cold alone and the Lord answered.

Linda W. said...

Dear Frank,

I am sorry you are numb and disoriented.

I am glad you are numb and disoriented.

If you weren't I would no longer respect you nor believe a word you said.

As far as I can tell from the Bible, God seems to have a special love and affinity for those who call him to account, who aren't afraid to say, "God, this is not like you. What are you doing? I expected better from you!" -- those who can cry, "Shall not the judge of the earth do right?" It is as if an honest relationship between a man and God is paramount, and angry questions -- which in themselves show a faith that God is good, loving, and powerful -- are far to be preferred over turning one's back, or worse, mouthing pious platitudes that reveal no connection between the lips and the heart.

Job was answered, if not in the way he expected, at least in a way that satisfied him. Surely David was, too. If Jesus can cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" we can, too!

(Listen to me, lecturing a seminary professor. What I mean to do is share with another thirsty pilgrim a spring that has at times refreshed me.)

Linda

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for continuing this site, and posting your thoughts and feelings. At least a few times a week, whenever I go snow hiking and climbing, I often think of these three men. I never knew them, and I am certainly no mountaineer, but I do work in social work have a great amount of empathy. There were nights when I stayed up watching CNN, praying for a miracle. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. Its amazing how much they touched our lives....to those of us who never met them....but we united together in support for your family. We wanted the same things, and felt the same desires you did....we wanted them home, and we still grieve for your loss.

Frank said...

Dear Anonymous:

You are absolutely right. Kelly’s death must be understood within the larger context. Kelly died doing what he loved—mountain climbing. The men, women and children of Darfur are being slaughtered because of ethnic background and religious affiliation. And then there are the young girls being sold into the sex trade by their own families in South East Asia—a kind of living death. I could go on.

As painful as Kelly’s death is for me personally, it occupies a different place in the pantheon of human tragedy. Death of any kind is a throbbing reminder of the ugliness that thrives in our fallen pathetic world. And yes this awfulness begs the question—where is God? This question is especially important for those of us who actually believe in God and we cannot—indeed we must not—avoid this question. Again I say, to ask such profound questions is to take God seriously.

FAJ

Karen said...

Where was God? The same place He promises us to be: "I am with you, always." Jesus Christ was with your brother and He is with you. Our sinful human nature wants to be in control but every day we receive notice that we do not have that power we desire. I pray that you will find comfort in knowing that Jesus was certainly with your brother as he is with each of us now and will be when we take our last sinful breath and first taste of the life to come. May God comfort you through the forgiveness of sins found only in Christ Jesus.

QQ said...

Dear Family, if I may share, there is another question that I often ask, "Where are the Christians?"

Anonymous said...

Your family (all of you) are still in my thoughts and prayers. I just wanted you to know that. The mountain is beautiful right now. I see it every morning when I drive to work. On these beautiful clear days, I think of Kelly, Brian and "Nikko". I always wondered what it would be like to climb to the top. To stand there looking down at the world. How surreal it must be. It must make everything else look so small. What a legacy they left for their children and family. Don't just dream it, do it! How excited they must have been to climb the mountain. How sad they must have been to leave their family behind. Our tears are for us because we miss them so much. I lost my brother almost 20 years ago and I still cry for him. Thank you for "keeping in touch". It is nice to go to this website and just see how you are doing. Isn't that silly? But I think about you, your family and hope that time will heal your heartache. That you still laugh when you think of the good times... That you are not bitter or angry (how do people do it without our Lord in their life?).

John said...

I live in Oregon and I followed the coverage of the search for your brother and his friends. I remember hearing something about you in the coverage. I wondered how you were dealing with this personal tragedy. I am glad to know (as other comments have said) that you are a human, searching for knowledge. Often we think that people in your profession have a corner on understanding the ways of God. When I first read the title of your post, my first reaction was: Darfur, Iraq, New Orleans, any Children's Hospital around the world... on and on. We all have personal tragedy in our lives and to us it is as big as the others in our own mind. We all have a situation where we begged and pleaded and made deals with God to save (in my case) our young Mother's cancer ravaged body. Only to be told softly and lovingly, no. Is it any easier to deal with? No, but with time and distance, it becomes more understandable. No where in the Bible are we promised understanding on this side of eternity. Where was God? He was there in the snow cave, holding Kelly tight as he took him home. God Bless you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Frank and Carolyn,
It is my firm belief that God was there up on that mountain. God is everywhere. He breathed into us the breath of life. O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely,O LORD.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"

even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God'sd master plan we may not be able to see, but He does. And He knows.
God Bless You and Your Family in This Time Of Need,
AMEN PSALM 139

Anonymous said...

Sometimes God wants certain individuals to be with him because he loves them so much. They too want to be with him. When the mutual attaction is so strong, then they go home. If we view everything long term... well, no one is really gone, they are just in a different place with no pain and its all joy. We too will be with God, but our work is not done here on earth.

It is important to know God and not about him.

Anonymous said...

... saying that last line again, but more clearly... :)

It is important to know God, not just know about him.

Anonymous said...

YOU ASKED THE QUESTION WHERE WAS GOD? I HAVE YOUR ANSWER, GOD PROMISED THAT HE WOULD NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. SO WHERE WAS GOD? HE WAS IN THE SAME PLACE LOOKING DOWN UPON YOUR LOVED ONE AS WHEN HE LOOKED DOWN UPON HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. WE OFTEN TIME SAY HOW COULD GOD LET SOMETHING SO BAD HAPPEN TO SOMEONE SO GOOD, WELL HE LET IT HAPPEN TO HIS SON WHO WAS WITHOUT SIN WITHOUOT BLEMISH WHAT MAKES YOU OR ME OR WHOEVER THINK THAT THEY ARE BETTER THAN OUR SAVIOR WHO SUFFERED AND DIED FOR OUR SINS AND THE SINS OF THE WORLD? JUST LIKE IT HAPPEN TO JESUS IT WILL HAPPEN TO ALL OF US WE ALL MUST DIE, THE BIBLE SAYS FOR EVERYTHING THERE IS TIME AND A SEASONS. SO IF YOUR LOVED ONE WAS ON THAT MOUNTAIN THAT DAY OR OUT WITH YOU IT WAS STILL HIS TIME TO GO. I LEAVE YOU WITH THIS THOUGHT THE ONE THING IN LIFE THAT WE ARE PERFECTLY ONE TIME TO, AN EVENT THAT WE COULD NEVER BE LATE FOR, OR EARLY FOR IS DEATH WHEN IT IS YOUR TIME IT IS YOUR TIME. FOR SOME PEOPLE IT IS TIME TO START A NEW LIFE AND FOR OTHERS THEY STILL HAVE WORK TO DO.

QQ said...

Topics like "knowing God" usually presume that we "should" know God, we "ought to" know God, or we "want" to know God.

But, really, why do we want to know God at all?

If someone would say to me, "Helen, I think you should know John Smith, I hope you would get to know him more deeply." I would say to myself, "Why? Why do I want to know John Smith at all?"

Well, I personally think God is very attractive. He is often hard for me to comprehend, but he is never boring. I can suspect that he could be mischievous, but he never bored my mind. I can also suspect that he is aloof, but he still never bored my feelings. I can dislike him, but I can never cease to be attracted to him. I can raise my voice against him, but he quite maintains his cool and never poured down a localized rain above my head. In the midst of all the prayers in various directions, he seemed to handle with finesse. I am quite amazed about him and find God very attractive to me.

I have many reasons to suspect that he is trying to get something good for his own benefits out of my misery, but I feel that he is more interested in getting my attention than defending his intention. One thing for sure is he wants my attention. It seems that he wants that beyond his reputation.

Although he presents himself to me with sweet words as a good, mighty, and all glorious God, and backs himself up with a long list of evidence; but he seems to desire my love more than my admiration. He says he is perfect, but often the case, he is certainly not quite so perfect in my personal perception about him -- yet he insists that he is perfect. He even claims to me that is what "perfect" is. Even if I don't quite like his definition or manifestation, but he certainly, above all, is successful to be an irresistible God to me.

helen qiu: professionalqiu@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I know we all question why God takes some people home at earlier ages than others. My mother was killed when she was 28 by my father and I have questioned why all my life. I have finally gotten to the point that I might not ever know exactly why, and my assumptions might be right or wrong, but God protects us until it is our time to go and be with Him, and then when our days are up they are up, and He will bring us home, by whatever means he chooses for us. As Christians, even tho it is so hard to let our loved ones go on this earth, we must eventually, after our grieving is complete, understand that they are home with God in heaven and that WE WILL SEE THEM AGAIN SHORTLY, AND BE WITH THEM FOREVER. THIS IS OUR HOPE. THIS IS NOT PERMANENT FOR ANY OF US! Everyone knows that time is short. Remember this, and know that you will be with Kelly for all ETERNITY, and then you will know for what purpose God called him home when he did.

Christi said...

I truly believe that death is much more tragic for those who are alive to feel the emotions and are left to reach out to God. Sometimes we have something to learn from going through the loss of a loved one, or maybe there is someone can learn from you, having gone through the experience.