“Where is God in all this?!” I find myself asking this question a lot in recent times. Every day, we are constantly bombarded with the realities of human suffering caused by violence, climate, migration, physical and mental illness, unemployment, poverty, and hunger. Too many days we react to these realities with anger, hate, apathy, and escapism.
As we face the messiness of the world, where is God in all this and what is God doing? As we experience the anxiety, fear, and anger in the midst of change, what does it mean to follow Christ? As we discuss and disagree about things like “sanctuary” or “climate change” or the “ELCA,” what does it mean to be Church, the body of Christ, in this messy world?
These are important questions for us as followers of Christ to ask. But too often, we forget to ask them in the midst of our debates about this issue or that topic. Where is God in this? What does it really mean to follow Christ in this? What does it mean to be Christ’s Church in this? In other words, what often seems to be missing is faith, faith in the God of Jesus Christ.
Faith is more than whether we believe in a God or in eternal life. Faith has three intertwined parts, all of which need each other. First, faith is trust, trusting completely in the God of our new life in Christ to save us, protect us, care for us, and love us so deeply that nothing we do or what anyone else does can separate us from God’s love in Christ. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” we say in faith. (Ps 23) “Do not worry, for your heavenly Father knows what you need,” Jesus preaches, reminding us to have faith. (Mt 6:31-32) Faith is first and foremost trusting God no matter what the issue is.
But faith is also commitment to the God in whom we trust. Faith is following Jesus wherever he calls us to go, being the people he calls us to be, and doing the work he calls us to do. Christ calls us out of our anger, our fear, our anxiety into the messy world to serve, care for, and love each other, especially those who need our compassion the most.
Faith also includes our beliefs, our communal understandings about who God is, how God works in the world, what Christ has done for us and continues to do for us through the Holy Spirit. While at times we may have differences in these beliefs, as followers of Christ, we turn to Scripture, the Creeds, the Lutheran Confessions and the stories of faith experienced by the many saints around us to better understand our beliefs and to guide our faith into active love in our communities and the world.
Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who creates this faith in us and calls, gathers, enlightens and makes us whole so that we are able to live out this faith together. But if we are distracted by other voices, we can’t hear the Spirit’s voice enlightening our beliefs. If we are trapped in our anger, we create stumbling blocks that make it hard for the Spirit to guide our commitment on the path of Christ. If we are overwhelmed by our anxiety, we close ourselves off from the faith that the Spirit is trying to work in us.
As you and your congregations face the realities of our messy times, I encourage you to take a step back from the issues that may be causing division among you and explore your faith in the God of Jesus Christ together. Create opportunities for the Spirit to work among you and ask yourselves, “where is God working in our congregation right now?” Ask “what does it really mean for us to follow Christ in this time and place?” Ask “what does it really mean for us to be Church, the body of Christ, in our community and world?” Explore these questions with one another and then, when you can honestly say that your Spirit-inspired faith is guiding you as the body of Christ, then engage the issues that concern you. You may be surprised by the results. With faith in the Spirit’s life-inspiring power.