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FIRST-PERSON: God’s mercies may abound even more in dark times

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–You may have seen the episode in the Andy Griffith reruns where Barney is showing the Mayberry kids — Opie and his friends — around the sheriff’s office. On the bulletin board are the “Most Wanted” pictures. One of the boys, intrigued by the pictures, asked Barney if these were real photographs of the wanted people. Yes! and they are vicious criminals, Barney proclaims. The boy responds, “Well, why didn’t they just keep them when they took these pictures?” Why? is indeed an often-asked question.

Why? is the question that comes to our lips when life-stopping, world-changing events take place. These events are generally few and far between.

In my lifetime I can remember a handful of life-stopping days. I remember Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy died. I remember Memphis, April 17, 1968, the day Martin Luther King died. We all remember Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999. And none of us will ever forget Sept. 11, 2001, one of the darkest days in American history.

Most of us responded to the events in New York and Washington with shock, horror and disbelief, and many of us began to ask the question “Why?” — probably the most-asked and least-answered question in the English language.

These events have led some of us to the imponderables of God: “If there is a God of love, why did this tragedy happen?” “If God is all-powerful, why didn’t he stop this evil act?”

Some of our students here at Union University have asked me if I thought God knew that Sept. 11’s events would happen even before they happened. The biblical answer is yes. God knows all things, but just because God knows all things does not mean that he causes all things. He knows how many hairs I’ve lost in my thinning hair this past year, but that does not mean that he plucked them out. A hunter walks through the woods. A deer is shot. God knew it, but did God do it?

We are not the first generation or nation to have a dark hour of the soul or raise these significant questions. The prophet Jeremiah wrestled with these kinds of issues during one of the darkest days in Israel’s history, recorded in the Old Testament’s Book of Lamentations.

Jeremiah describes affliction, distress, physical impairments, the obstruction of freedom, the confinement of movement, the problem of prayerlessness and deep grief.

As he looked around him, he observed that, for many, lasting hope in God had perished. Gone were inner peace, happiness, confidence and security.

Similarly, recent days have been a time of major disappointment for us. Only by having the right perspective can we respond to this tragedy.

That is what happened to Jeremiah in verses 22-24 of chapter 3 of Lamentations. Instead of resorting to fatalism or falling into despair or seeking ways to find vengeance, he began to refocus on God’s faithful and steadfast love.

Only when we alter our perspective are we able to see and proclaim God’s faithfulness. We often point to God’s faithfulness in good times, but Jeremiah did so with his world in disarray around him.

In this dark hour, we, like Jeremiah, often find that life seems confusing, that answers to the Why? question are hard to find, and that the voice of God seems distant.

This experience is not only ours, and Jeremiah’s, but to some degree it was also true in the earthly life of our Lord. At his transfiguration on a mountain with Peter, James and John, the voice of God was obviously present, declaring: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

But on another day, on another hill outside the city of Jerusalem, when it was midnight at midday, for six hours the voice of God seemed silent. As he hung on that cross, Jesus asked “Why?” crying out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Yet in the midst of the silence, God was still at work — in fact, he was accomplishing your redemption and mine. It may well be that in these dark times God is doing more than at any other time in your life and mine, and even in our country.

Let us recognize that it’s because of his great mercies that we are not consumed; let us celebrate the truth that his compassions never fail, they are new even this day.

Great is God’s faithfulness.
Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Adapted from an address by Dockery in a Sept. 14 chapel service. For the full version, go to http://www.uu.edu/dockery/091401-sept11.htm.