Over the last couple of weeks, Kenya, my homeland, has been thrust into the international news headlines due to the senseless massacre of students at the Garissa University. I am deeply saddened by the horrific nature of this tragedy, and I join the many across the world who have been praying for the victims. I especially pray with all sincerity for the parents, siblings, relatives, and friends of the 148 people who lost their lives, and those who were injured. I cannot even begin to imagine the agony the victims of this brutality have been going through.
It has been said that human beings are the only creatures in the world who have learned to ask questions instead of relying on instincts. In times like these, our questions are unleashed upon us in the fullest of force. What can we do? Where was God? These are perhaps two of the most frequent and important questions.
Short of turning back the clock, there is nothing any human being can do to erase the pain of what has taken place. But I would begin by encouraging you to pray sincerely for those affected by this tragedy. Only God can touch the hearts of the victims with his comforting presence. Pray that the authorities will be able to do all they can to bring the terrorists to justice. And yes, pray also for the perpetrators of this evil. From the very pages of the Scriptures to our own day, we meet people, like the Apostle Paul, who singled out others for extermination and who later became heroes of the faith.
In addition to prayer, we also need to remember the victims in an active manner. We are grateful that many world leaders have condemned these attacks, and a few have promised to stand with Kenya in the aftermath of this tragedy. But judging from previous experiences, it is reasonable to expect that the world will soon forget, and move on to another crisis. It can be overwhelming to think of trying to help in the midst of all that goes wrong in our world.
But if we really mean it when we ask what we can do, we need to identify whatever is within our power to do and get involved. These acts of terror and brutality are not just a problem for the victims; they are an affront to humanity. It is incumbent upon all of us to act, including those who insist that their religion has been hijacked by fanatics and that it has nothing to do with terrorism.
We need to let the victims know that they are not forgotten, and our promise to stand with them must be backed by action. Those who work with organizations like Wellspring International, RZIM’s humanitarian arm, know firsthand how meaningful it is to reach out to those who feel abandoned when their crisis no longer makes the headlines. We need to live up to the conviction many of us claim to hold: that all lives, from Los Angeles to Lagos and from Geneva to Garissa, matter.
So then, where was God? This is one question that inevitably comes up when tragedy strikes. It is most pertinent for those who claim that God is all-good and all-powerful. In other words, it is the very goodness of God that gives rise to the question. Deny God, and you lose the right to raise the question of evil, for without God there is no particular way things ought to be. But why would a morally perfect God fail to intervene to stop these atrocities?
One can approach this question in two ways: (1) from an intellectual perspective or (2) from an emotional perspective. In the face of tragedy, the most vexing issue is not whether or not there is a logical contradiction between believing in a perfect God given the reality of evil at the same time. That is actually easier to handle. By creating us as moral beings, God gave us the ability to choose, and with that ability came the possibility of evil.
Our ability to choose is at once God’s most powerful means of conferring dignity upon us as well as a deadly gift, depending on how we choose to use it. Nevertheless, we need to note that God’s jurisdiction extends beyond this life, and when all is said and done, every human being will be held accountable for his or her actions. So the intellectual side of the equation is easier to address. The most difficult problem is the emotional angst one inescapably feels while trying to understand why God would seemingly stand by and watch as these horrendous activities take place.
But it is in the very face of this troublesome question that the gospel message speaks with unparalleled authority and beauty. A day after the Garissa massacre, Christians all over the world celebrated Good Friday—a day in which we remember the ghastly murder of God’s innocent Son, Jesus Christ, on a Roman cross. The crucifixion was preceded by many hours of unbelievable flogging and humiliation.
In the face of this untold horror, Jesus raised this very question with God the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(1)
So, where was God when his Son suffered a slow, excruciating death on the cross? In biblical terms, God made the arrangement for this event before the world began.(2) And about seven hundred years before the crucifixion, the prophet Isaiah wrote,
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.(3)
God knew the choices we would make and the depth of the evil in the human heart. God made arrangements for a rescue plan—a plan that has proven to be incredibly effective to multitudes.
A story that has emerged from Garissa offers us a powerful analogy. One of the students, Hellen Titus, told the Kenyan media how she was able to escape from the tragedy as the shooters hovered over her and her fellow students. She covered herself with someone else’s blood and was thereby mistaken for dead.
That is exactly what Jesus has done for us; he invites us to be covered with his blood so that we can live. And when we are thus protected, we may grieve, but we do not grieve like those without hope, and we do not fear those who can only kill the body but cannot touch the soul.
So, why doesn’t God intervene in these types of situations? He has.
J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Matthew 27:46
(2) Revelation 13:8
(3) Isaiah 53:5