Friday, July 20, 2012

If God is Good....then Why?

Refugees from Myanmar
A new student sits at my table and stoops over the enrollment form, lead pencil scratching out the tiniest, most perfectly formed script I've ever seen.

I smile and hold my heart out in greeting, already knowing without knowing that he will be one in a line of dozens who will flow into my ESL class for a few weeks or months before disappearing when a job or poverty takes him elsewhere.

Even if they don't smell or look like me, the bond is there and the parting is still loss.

I live in the deep South where if I go to my favorite mall with the best deals, I'm in the minority.  All around me walks a rainbow of God's creations.  Yet, this young man looks different even before he speaks English with a thick tongue.  He reminds me of a picture I might find in my National Geographic magazine or in Ann's blog entries about Haiti.

His skin is so black, his eyes glow.  Even his teeth seem to be almost lit from within each time he smiles, which he does frequently as we laugh together at our mistakes, even mine. The close-cropped tight curls cover great intelligence that comes through easily despite the language barrier.

But behind the smile and sparkling eyes is a history that would surely give me nightmares if I knew it all.

After class, I try to make small talk, find out a little about him, his life before being given refuge, permanent residency status here in America.

He names his country.  I nod as if I know where he hearkens from, but later, I have to go home and look it up on google.  Rwanda, I've heard of--it's in the news all too much for all the wrong reasons.

His country is smaller, much smaller, but still suffers from the wars, the tribal infighting.

I ask if he is here with family.  He shakes his head. "No. I am alone."

My heart nearly breaks.  Alone.

Most of the other refugees I teach from Myanmar, Mexico, Rwanda at least have other family members with them, and if not family, then others from their country.

But this one? He has no one from the home country.

I could stop here.  Our time is up.  I'll sleep better without knowing.  But I keep asking the hard questions anyway.

Does he have siblings?  Yes.  But they are all back home.

A father? No.  Lips tense.  Not ever.

His mother?

"My mother is dead."

As he speaks these last words, his eyes drop for a split second.  This is why he is alone.  There is a story here of pain, still tender.

Yes.  He is alone.

The conversation shifts, but I want to cry out to God and ask why.  Why does He allow such hatred to exist, to erupt in brutality? I fall asleep with him on my mind.

This morning, I wake to the news of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve dead, nearly sixty injured.

More senseless brutality. Why God?

With heavy heart, I look back at the photo that has sit on my desktop for the past few weeks, the same one that begins this post.  Its caption speaks of the same senseless brutality, but also of intolerance, fear, hunger:

A Rohingya Muslim man who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence cries as he pleads from a boat after he and others were intercepted by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh, June 13. Bangladesh has turned back more than 1,500 refugees in recent days. A global human rights group has urged Bangladesh to keep its border open to people seeking refuge from sectarian violence in western Myanmar.

The tendency is for us to ask God why? Why does a good God allow this to happen?

To ask such a question, though, shows just how little we know about who God is.  God is not just good. The God of the Christian Bible is also jealous, holy, sovereign.  He is full of gracious mercy, yes, but also full of righteous wrath, anger, and judgment. 

We can't accept one part of God's character without accepting the other, or we have denied Him all and fashioned a god of our own creation.

Because we don't know who truly God is, we're asking the wrong question.

In a world that denies God's a world bent on worshiping itself, the question should be, "Why not more often?"

God's goodness and grace are showered on our world in abundance.  We just miss it.

The sleeping child pictured in the boat could be the thin boy who sits each week in my class, but for the grace of God who brought him here.  

The young African man whom I help navigate the English language each week--he, too, could be a senseless victim of tribal wars but for the grace of God.

The hundreds of theaters, subway cars, schools, skyscrapers--they all could be ground zero for mass brutality...but for the grace of God. 

It's easier to see God and His good grace when the brutality strikes overseas, to the nameless foreigner. 

Yet, when such tragedy strikes at home, it's then we must decide if we know God at all.

Image: MSNBC: Refugees from Myanmar flee their country, beg for entrance into Bangladesh.

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