The Common Good
August 2005

Are You There, God?

by Lisa Yebuah | August 2005

As shareholders in God'

As shareholders in God’s eternal story, we commune with a creating God and are drawn into fellowship with a global community. Our stories become shared experiences.

The idea of a collective story shared between God and humankind evokes a beautiful image, but it demands great responsibility. The relationship is extremely intimate. Hence, when tragic world events choke life, shatter dreams, and diminish hope, the people of God are called to act, pray, and invoke the presence of a life-giving God.

Jon Sobrino, Jesuit priest and scholar from El Salvador, writes a powerful account about God and humanity’s connection to the tangible and intangible markers of our global story. In his book Where Is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope, Sobrino reflects on three specific tragedies that took place in 2001. Though the book was originally planned as a theological response to the devastating earthquakes that shook El Salvador in January and February of that year, Sobrino expanded it to allow reflection on the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and the subsequent October bombings in Afghanistan.

These events structure the book’s progression. More important, Sobrino uses the three countries to tackle the theological task of explaining the complexities of God’s activity in the midst of natural disasters, in the chaos and destruction of random violence, and in the roles humans play as they struggle to live into God’s salvific narrative instead of the myth of empire.

Sobrino’s retrospective approach to Where Is God is the book’s greatest strength. Not only does he take seriously the connections that link sufferers across the globe, but he models how one can faithfully hold three very different contexts in tension without neutralizing their particularities. At each juncture, Sobrino lends fresh perspective and brings to bear the larger theological questions, but he always makes space for the mystery of God in the brokenness of people. To the question "where is God during intense suffering," Sobrino responds: "There is no logical, rationally convincing answer to the question about where God is in suffering. ...[L]et us simply say that God is also crucified." By offering such an answer, Sobrino isn’t avoiding a critical analysis of the contexts. Instead, his response leads his theological discussion away from placing all blame on God and directs attention instead to the empire’s effect on human beings.

SOBRINO ATTEMPTS to bring people into a conversation with the world’s sufferers. He translates the struggles of El Salvador, the United States, and Afghanistan into the larger narrative of the global community. His title question candidly confronts cases where humanity acts in ways that aren’t in accord with the life-giving spirit of the gospel. He uncovers where humans are unfaithful to the stories of others.

However, Sobrino also writes himself into the text, exposing his own vulnerabilities as a human being. While this is at times helpful, on occasion it can be overwhelming as he deals with the emerging theological concepts and revelations that each context prompts. Nonetheless, his intention to include other cries in the global community outside of his own must be applauded.

In a time when Christians are trying to make sense of the genocide in Sudan, the rising conflict in the Middle East, and the increasing disparity between rich and poor, Sobrino’s book is not an affront to God but rather a timely liturgy created for a global community. Through one question, God and God’s people are called to rest in the deep sighs of a world longing for the hope promised in God’s storybook ending - a new heaven and a new earth.

Lisa Yebuah is marketing/circulation intern at Sojourners.

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