Where is God when the world doesn’t make sense?

Heidi Charalambous

“I just keep thinking about my students. What about them?”

It was my first time at book club, and as we sat around the table of a local gastropub, the tone of the table was not nearly as upbeat as the conversations that surrounded us. It was the day after the presidential election, and the results were heavy on everyone’s minds. 

As a teacher, one member was worried about her students’ futures. After a campaign marked by negativity, violence, sexism, and discrimination, what would this outcome tell them about who they are? How would it shape their trust in our democracy? Would the new administration’s decisions affect her students’ rights and opportunities?

In a nation divided over the election’s outcome, not everyone will relate to her concerns. But the unsettledness she experienced is a feeling we all know too well. 

The great myth of humanity is that if I can just control the outcomes, I’ll be at peace. But the truth is that trust, not control, leads to peace. If I’m in control of everything, I’m worried about everything. But when I learn to trust God with everything, I can find peace in anything. 

“God, do you see what’s happening here?”

It’s the question we’ve all asked at some point when life didn’t go as planned. God’s answer in those moments is simple: “I’m right here. I always have been, and I always will be.”

In God's eternal plan, much of what happens on Earth won't make sense. The key to peace is not trying to understand but choosing to trust.

God reminds us throughout Scripture that He is present to everyone and far from no one. His throne might be in heaven, but He is intricately involved in affairs here on Earth. Nothing surprises God or catches Him off guard because nothing happens without His knowledge. 

One of my favorite descriptions of God comes from Isaiah 40

“So — who is like me?
    Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.
Look at the night skies:
    Who do you think made all this?
Who marches this army of stars out each night,
    counts them off, calls each by name
— so magnificent! so powerful! —
    and never overlooks a single one?” (Isaiah 40:25-31, MSG)

Isaiah, a prophet, wrote these words during a troubled time in Israel’s history, a time when many of God’s people were probably asking the same question: “God, do you see what’s happening here?”

Israel was supposed to be special, favored, protected. The problem is many took that to mean infallible. But when Isaiah wrote those words, the Assyrians had already taken the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity. In another 90 years, the southern kingdom of Judah would be conquered by the Babylonians, too. 

Isaiah’s words were not an arm flex from the Almighty so much as a reminder that — despite all the chaos and all the ways things weren’t going according to plan — God could still be trusted. He had never lost sight of His people, and He wasn’t going to start now. 

“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
‘God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me’?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.” (Isaiah 40:27-29, MSG). 

His majesty is greater than my fear

God is both intensely personal and incredibly majestic. It’s easy to focus so much on how God cares for us that we can forget He’s not one of us. Genesis 1:27 says I’m like God, but He is not like me. And I love that about Him. 

Psalm 93:1-2 describes God like this: 

“The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
    indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
    you are from all eternity.”

I find comfort in a God who loves me intimately and still reigns supremely. I don’t want to put my life in the hands of a person I can outsmart. What if He gets it wrong, like I so often do? What if He forgets about me or drops the ball, like I’m inclined to do? The only reason my life is secure in God’s hands is because He is greater than I am.  

The trade-off in this arrangement is that I don’t always know what God is doing or understand what’s happening around me. He has seen more than I’ll ever remember and understands more than I’ll ever learn. If God thinks like Sherlock, my understanding is on par with Mrs. Hudson. 

Later on in Isaiah, God reminds His people of this, saying, “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work. For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think” (Isaiah 55:8-9, MSG). 

Trust > Control

In any situation life throws our way, the difference between peace and panic is where we place our focus. Instead of analyzing our circumstances, God invites us to look to the Bible to analyze who He is. How has He responded in these situations before? What promises does He make to His people? What guidance does He give us to follow?

As I drove home from book club that night, I was struck by how five women could share similar concerns about Donald Trump’s temperament yet experience vastly different emotions after his election. What I realized is our emotions in that moment were a reflection of where each of us had placed our trust. 

If our trust is in the Lord and not in our political system, we have to believe that God is not surprised or panicked by the outcome of an election. After all, God tells us in the Bible that:

  • He raises up leaders and brings down leaders (Daniel 2:21). 

  • He accomplishes His plans for His people, regardless of who is in charge (Proverbs 21:1, NLT). 

  • He can work through all things, even our struggles, for the good of His people (Romans 8:28). 

  • His desire for us is to continue sharing our faith and praying for our leaders (Jeremiah 29:7).

When disappointments come — and they will come — there will always be an initial sense of shock and disbelief. Choosing to trust in those moments starts with remembering who God is: “the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). 

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