Where Is God?
As our church has studied Ezekiel this summer, we’ve talked about those times in life when it feels like God is far away. Perhaps in those times, it’s good to remember that we are not the first ones to think that. For much of Old Testament history, people thought of God as literally dwelling in the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why every Jew wanted to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, because “that’s where God was.” Naturally, then, when the Jews were carried into exile in Babylon, people felt separated from God. Indeed, the psalmist in Babylonian exile reports that God was so far away that the peoples’ songs — and undoubtedly their prayers — would go unheard (see Psalm 137).
Enter the prophet Ezekiel, with his strange lifestyle and bizarre visions. His eccentricity notwithstanding, Ezekiel helps bring about a critical theological shift, namely, that God is not removed from us. The exiles were saying, “God is in Jerusalem, so in order to be with God, we have to go there.” Ezekiel says emphatically: “No, in order be with us, God’s Spirit has come here.” Do you see how different those two perspectives are? And do you see how Ezekiel foreshadows the gospel and the incarnation? In the birth of Jesus, God came to us– God came to be part of our world and part of our lives and part of our struggles. What is that Matthew says in his Christmas story? “And they will call the child’s name Immanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23).
Elie Wiesel was a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He tells of his experiences in the camps in a little book titled, “Night.” Among the atrocities Wiesel describes are several hangings. If a prisoner tried to escape, or if he were suspected of any sort of sabotage, he was hanged. Then all of the other prisoners were forced to march by and look directly into the dead man’s face as he hung on the gallows. It was considered deterrence.
Wiesel describes one day on which three victims were to be hanged. Two of them were large men, but the third was quite a young boy — “a sad-eyed angel” Wiesel calls him. His presence seemed to make the captors uneasy: to hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators is no light matter. The three victims were brought in chains, mounted onto chairs, the nooses placed over their necks. “Long live liberty!” the two adults cried. But the child was silent. Among the throng of prisoners watching, someone asked out loud: “Where is God? Where is He?”
A kick of the chairs. Then the march past began. The two adults were dead, but the third rope was still moving. Being so light, the child was still alive. For more than half an hour he hung there, struggling between life and death. Elie Wiesel writes, “We all had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. . . . Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘Where is God?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is God? God is here — hanging on this gallows.’”
Picture an execution, three people sentenced to die. Only this time there are no gallows. Instead there are three crosses. As the shadow of death approaches, someone in the crowd asks, “Where is God?” The voice of faith answers, “God is here, hanging on this cross.” This is what it means to have a God who has entered into our world and into our lives and even into our suffering.
Where is God? God is here, with us.