In the Lenten book "Faithfully Yours: Letters for the Wondering," Bri-anne Swan reflects on the perennial question, “God, where were you?”
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
— Habakkuk 1:1-2
I felt your spirit in a young boy. He was about 12 years old, sitting with his mother and sister, surrounded by a dozen others from the neighbourhood. We were lighting candles and taking turns first sitting in silence and then sharing words of loss and lament.
Most of those gathered had ties to Sri Lanka and had family members who were either killed or injured during the 2019 Easter Morning bombings that shook both the country and the world. The boy was quite small. Yet in his sorrow, he seemed much older than his age. Perhaps that is the way of young prophets.
“I just don’t understand,” he said. “Why did this happen? Why does this keep happening? Why do people keep killing each other? Why did they do it where we go to talk to God?”
The boy then looked skywards. In confusion and indignation he cried out, “God, where were you?”
There is a certain courage in voicing doubt and questioning God. O Habakkuk, your cry and your song are timeless. It’s both a comfort and a source of heartbreak. For thousands of years, these perennial questions continue to tear at our souls in times of violence and grief. And yet, 2,600 years later, we’re still left without any easy answers.
Where is God when a school full of children are kidnapped and enslaved? Where is God when a terrorist begins shooting worshippers at a mosque? Where is God when a church is bombed to the ground?
Sometimes the questions of the heart cannot be answered with words alone. There is, indeed, courage in questioning God. There is also courage in maintaining faith, despite doubt and despite not entirely understanding how the Spirit moves through our days and our lives.
Our young prophet concluded his questioning with a simple shrug: “I just don’t get it.” But then he sang a prayer he’d learned in school. He sang it over and over again. And because he sang, we could all sing with him — confused and grieving, but faithfully together.
My friend, your fiery spirit lives on.
In timeless solidarity,
— Bri-anne Swan is the Community Minister with Living Presence Ministry in East Gwillimbury, ON and a candidate for Diaconal Ministry. She is a spiritual companion to men on Texas’ death row, journeying with them as they move toward their executions. In addition to her ministry role, Bri-anne is a professional singer/songwriter and composer with three released albums to date.
This blog post is an excerpt from this year's United Church Lenten devotional, Faithfully Yours, which shares a series of letters for the spiritually wondering, inspired by love. It features daily scripture, reflections, hymn suggestions, personal questions, and prayers for individual devotions or group study by a wide variety of United Church contributors. It also includes a helpful study guide. Lent begins Wednesday, February 26. Order your copies today from UCRDstore.ca.