Is God still King?

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Associate Professor of Biblical Studies (New Testament)

In How God Became King, N. T. Wright, asks questions people often think: “If God is really king, why is there still cancer? Why are there still tsunamis? Why are there still tyranny, genocide, child abuse, and massive economic corruption?”[1] To these questions, we may add, “Why the COVID-19 virus outbreak?” These questions reflect a common sentiment, “Where is God when I am suffering?” When someone asks us that, we may feel like Philip Yancey: “I feel helpless around people in great pain. Helpless, and also guilty. I stand beside them, watching facial features contort and listening to the sighs and moans, deeply aware of the huge gulf between us. I cannot penetrate their suffering, I can only watch. Whatever I attempt to say seems weak and stiff, as if I’d memorized the lines for a school play.”[2]

The Lord wasn’t unfamiliar with calamities, sufferings, or inquiries. As he visited his friend’s funeral, Martha and Mary accused him of neglect: If only he would have cared enough to reach them in time, their brother would not have died (John 11:21, 32). Frightened for their lives, the disciples woke him from his deep sleep saying, “Don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38).[3] Peter, fearing death, rebuked him to stop talking nonsense (Matt 16:22). And, when he healed those under evil’s spell, they accused him of working for the prince of demons (Luke 11:15). Day in and day out, he was with the afflicted, sickly, and downtrodden. He might have felt like Yancey, “Helpless, and also guilty.” We don’t sympathize with him or think there might have been times he was fed up, overwhelmed, and heartbroken. The Gospels give such pictures on rare occasions: he was moved with compassion (Matt 9:36), furious and heartbroken at their heartlessness (Mark 3:5), and sought privacy to eat and rest (Mark 6:31). Wasn’t he the king who could heal everyone in Judea and Galilee? Why didn’t he then?

The cross gives us a glimpse into how God operates. Unlike us, Jesus predicted and anticipated his suffering and cross. To his Father he said, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). To the disciples he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Yet, when the hour of pain drew near, he cried three times for deliverance – for the cup of death to go away from him (Matt 26:39). As he cried, before the coming suffering, the Father remained silent as if he didn’t care. Only he can speak for himself, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it would have broken the Father’s heart to see his Son’s suffering and yet he remained silent.

The suffering continued; they beat him, stripped him naked, and nailed him to a cross for him to die. At that hour of intense pain, the Son cries to the Father, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” meaning, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). And the Father turned away as if he couldn’t bear the pain of his son. Still, no answer.

Hours passed, and even days passed. Finally, the Father listened and answered. The writer of Hebrews says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb 5:7, emphasis added). Whereas everyone assumed the Father didn’t listen, care, or get involved, he did listen. He waited until the appropriate time and acted. He answered his son’s prayer – not by delivering him from going to the cross but by raising him from the dead.

Before the cross, the Father remained silent as if he didn’t care. During the cross, he turned away as if he couldn’t bear the pain. After the cross, he rescued him from the death by the resurrection. That’s the modus operandi of God.

In the midst of uncertainty, fear, and the possibility of catching the virus and dying, we look to the cross and imitate Jesus — cry for help, submit to God’s will, and wait for his deliverance. With Paul, we confess, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). We confess and have this confidence because our God reigns. He is still king, even with COVID-19 outbreak!

[1] N. T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (New York: HarperOne, 1989), xi.

[2] Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 15.

[3] The scriptures are from the NIV.

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