A sad story about a young woman struggling with her faith recently crossed my inbox. Only three years into her marriage, her husband died tragically in a motorcycle accident. It was just a few days after the funeral that she discovered she was pregnant, and a few weeks after that, with twins! Nine months later the boys had a healthy delivery, but one struggled. After a valiant but futile fight, he passed away. The new mother was left all alone with an infant and the grief of not one, but two, dearly loved ones having passed away.
The young mother wondered, “Where was God the day she lost everything?”#Christians wonder, 'Where was #God the day she lost everything?' Click To Tweet
I believe if you read the following excerpt from my new book, co-authored with Steve Howell, titled 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets (available on our website and on Kindle and Nook), you will marvel at the similarities between the people of the nation of Israel in the Prophet Joel’s time and God’s people today when asking that very same question.
We’ll begin with an introductory story, an elaborations on Scripture, an imaged scenario that the text hints at but doesn’t necessarily describe. We ask that you take this story as intended—as historical fiction to illustrate historical fact. Then we’ll dive directly into the book of Joel and learn what the prophet has to teach us concerning faith through devastating loss.
The young woman stood just outside the door of her little farmhouse, hand to forehead to shield her eyes from the gathering morning light. She was scanning the horizon, looking for her husband’s familiar form. “Ah, there you are.” she said to herself, recognizing the silhouette of the man she loved located deep in the heart of their sprawling wheat field. She watched him walking softly along the workman’s path so as not to snap any of the fully grown stalks, flattening his hands to his sides in order to feel the wheat heads slide gently across his palms. His chest swelled as he inhaled deeply, savoring the richness of the summer harvest’s aroma. Then he stopped, stood perfectly still, and soaked in the satisfying feeling of victory over long months of back-breaking work. The pride she felt in her husband lit up her face like the rays of the sun.
Knowing he’d likely be out there for quite a while reveling in the wonders of it all, the farmer’s wife let out a small sigh, called her two rambunctious preschoolers to her side, and headed out to share in the experience. As she approached his position, the squeal of the children’s laughter as they skipped down the path drew him out of his revelry. He turned to behold his loving bride eagerly approaching and returned her smile with equal warmth. Once together, his arm slipped around her petite waist and she rested her head upon his shoulder. The beauty of the morning coupled with the warm feeling of accomplishment added to the excitement of the harvest day ahead. With no possible words to express how content they were, the pair simply remained silent and watchful. Even the little ones appeared subdued as they beheld the growing sun redden their amber fields.
It was the older of the two children who first noticed it. Holding up a chubby little finger, he pointed at what appeared to be a tiny black cloud forming along the sun’s lower radius and questioned his papa if rain was coming. With one eye buried by his wife’s long hair, the farmer peered out of the remaining eye at the approaching cloud. No, the sky the last few days showed rain wasn’t to be expected. That’s why he’d picked this day to start the harvest. Curiosity snapped the family out of the revelry they’d all been enjoying. As the cloud swelled in speed and size, curiosity transformed into concern. And, when the cloud changed direction suddenly and eerily morphed its shape, concern was abandoned to sheer panic. Hurriedly scooping up a child in each arm and hastily pressing his wife back down the path, the farmer cried out, “Run! Now! Back to the house.”
Only once they were ensconced in the farmhouse, door secured and sheets pulled over the window openings, did the couple dare to catch their breath. The children whimpered quietly, unsettled by their father’s sudden alarm. Then they heard a sound that would haunt their dreams all of their remaining years. At first the noise started out as a distant hum, but as the light outside dimmed, the louder and more distinctive the sound became. The increasingly deafening noise chittered away like the upending of ten thousand rain sticks combined with the beating of a million hummingbird wings. When the din reached full cacophony, a dreadful chewing sound blended into the terrible mix to create a nightmarish roar.
The farmer leapt off the dirt floor where he was comforting his family and threw open the door. “No! No! No!” he yelled over and over again at the black cloud. It was pouring out of the sky and down into his wheat field like a waterfall that would never run dry. His wife shrieked in terror behind him. Whirling around, the farmer saw his wife clutching at her long hair as brown lumps tumbled down upon her through a hole in the ceiling. Frantically she used both hands to rake them off her head. Her children stomped on the chitinous masses, producing a sickening, crunching sound. The farmer despaired as he returned his attention back outside at a morning that had turned as murky as dusk. The worst fear of all those who worked the land had just came true—a locust invasion.
The farmer burst out the door, slamming it behind him to his wife’s pleadings of, “Don’t go!” He had to do something, anything, to save an entire season’s worth of work. The locusts’ voracious appetite would destroy months of labor in just mere hours. After that, his family would starve.
The scene was the stuff of nightmares. Everything was covered in a tide of movement. Not one plant, one tree, or one shrub was visible. Millions of empty, black eyes stared up at him as they hungrily consumed everything with their clacking mandibles. Neighbors in the distance were setting fires in the hopes that the smoke would drive the insect plague away, but the black tide continued to deluge out of the sky. The farmer’s wife was out now as well, running back and forth and crying hysterically as she waved a sheet to disperse the swarm, only to have the locusts roll back in behind her like a river.
For an eternal hour the exhausted, despairing couple battled the swarm with sticks and fire, and lost. Once drained of all energy, the pair fell sobbing into each other’s arms amidst the stripped and burnt remains of their harvest field.
Tear-filled eyes almost caused the couple to miss the peculiar change in the movement of the swarm. Spinning down the lane towards their house appeared to be a… tornado? To their utter surprise, the vortex wasn’t made of wind, but a swirling storm of locusts. The farmer’s wife let out a gasp when she realized that within the eye of the storm strode a lone man. Just as odd, not one insect dared land upon him. They moved out of his way as if he were on fire. Adding to the bizarre scene, a bedraggled crowd of neighbors and town elders, men staggering around like drunks, and towns-people whom they’d never encountered before followed in the tornado’s wake.
As the freak of nature approached, out of the funnel a powerful voice boomed out to all those it passed. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is at hand.” The mystery man bellowed on, “Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord!”
Defeated and now destitute, there was only one thing left for the stricken farmers to do—obey. The young couple gathered their sniffling children, left the ravages that was their life behind them, and joined in the line of people shuffling wearily after the whirlwind.
Where was God the Day She Lost Everything?
The six-man rescue team sifted through the debris of the neighborhood assigned to them, searching for any sign of life. There was little hope. The place looked like a bomb had gone off. The wreckage appeared eerily reminiscent of scenes from old pictures which depicted the blasted remains of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic weaponry. There was nothing man-made about this bomb, though the damage had been made just as swiftly as if by an atomic weapon. The cause of this destruction—a tsunami created by the most powerful earthquake ever known to hit Japan.
On March 11, 2011, a staggering 9.0 magnitude earthquake erupted under the Pacific Ocean, becoming the fifth most powerful earthquake in recorded history.1 The resulting 133 foot high tidal wave of water crashed down upon northeastern Japan, instantly erasing whole towns before washing everything—buildings, boats, houses, livestock and people—all out to sea. After the water receded, full-scale rescue and relief efforts descended upon the devastated areas, only to discover an almost hopeless situation.
Relief workers reported back that nearly 130,000 buildings had totally collapsed and more than 690,000 buildings lay partially damaged. At a total of $235 billion dollars in damages, this was the most expensive disaster ever recorded. But, as bad as the property damage was, it was nothing compared to the death toll. The final number was 15,854 dead, with 27,000 injuries, and over 3,000 people missing due to being buried in mud or washed out into the Pacific Ocean.2
And yet, amidst all the death, destruction and supposed futility of searching for survivors, a little story of hope shone through this chaos. One of the rescue teams working to carefully remove a pile of debris discovered a young woman buried underneath. The men hastened to dig her out, throwing household wreckage left and right. Once they reached her, though, their enthusiasm drained away. The medic on the team announced what they all had expected, that she was dead. But, as they rolled the dead woman over, the rescuers were surprised to find secure in her lifeless arms a three-month old baby boy wrapped in a flowery blanket. The mother had paid the ultimate sacrifice—her life—in order to shield her son’s little body with her own from the brunt of a collapsing house.
Then the baby cooed! To the amazement of the team, the little boy was still alive. He’d been sleeping peacefully somehow under his dead mother’s body throughout the whole deluge. While the medic examined the baby and was relieved to see he was unharmed, a cell phone tucked inside his blanket with him slipped out. Curious, the medic activated it and discovered a text message still alight on the screen. After reading it he began to cry. He then passed the phone on to his fellow teammates. As the phone went from one rescuer’s hand to another to another, the tears flowed freely down their cheeks. The mother’s final message to her baby boy read, “If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” The men could only weep silently over the mother’s love for her child.3#God: 'If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.' Click To Tweet
If there was even one man who believed in God on that team, they would have had to have been asking, “Where was God the day she lost everything?” Certainly the world was asking that very question as the news reports began to filter in over television and the Internet. Horrible pictures of dead bodies intertwined with the shattered remains of houses floating out into the Pacific Ocean made their way onto our screens. Videos captured by people trapped on top of sinking buildings and from inside submerging cars recorded the tales of many who did not live long past uploading their files to YouTube. The whole world could at some basic level share in the experience of living through one of the worst disasters in human history. The destruction, the desolation, the death, the loss, and the hopelessness of it could only truly be felt by those who were suffering. And yet, in this high-tech society in which we live today, the whole world was struck at some level by the shared horror of it all.
Like those people in Japan, maybe you also have suffered during your lifetime a devastating loss, or are even now suffering through one. When we suffer a devastating loss such as a death of a close family member, a bitter divorce, destruction of property, declining health, financial ruin, betrayal by a best friend and so on, we cannot help but wonder why God did not prevent the loss in the first place. We ask ourselves, “Why me?” Or, “Why didn’t God stop it?” Or, “Where was God while it was happening?” Feeling neglected and abandoned, we can experience a hurt so deep that our faith in God is stretched to the point of snapping. For those whose faith has already snapped, the rage and bitterness they feel towards God becomes yet another devastating loss for them that lasts potentially for an eternity.
How then do we maintain faith in God through a devastating loss? The answer can be found in a little three chapter book from the Old Testament written by the Minor Prophet Joel.
Read what Joel learned about faith in 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets!
1. “The 2011 Earthquake Off the Coast of Japan,” (March 2011), http://crisisreliefcentre.org/2011japan/.
3. Source unknown.