It was 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been murdered. Racial and political riots had reached the streets of our cities and college campuses. The war in Vietnam played out on our living room televisions, with body counts announced as routinely as the weather. It seemed that the only certainty I and others had as young men was the draft classification on our selective service card. God seemed remote to me.
In 1972 I joined the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Police Department. To me it was an opportunity for community service, and I anticipated that God would use such service. But I soon realized I had to rid myself of any “save the world” naiveté. The streets were dangerous and unforgiving. As one veteran officer explained, “There is no second place in a street fight. You have to win or you might not go home at night.” He was right. I lost my partner, Joseph Taylor, on November 17, 1986. He was shot and killed as we and other officers searched a home for a murder suspect. We made the arrest, but at the expense of Joe’s life. As sirens blared and emergency medical workers feverishly tried to save Joe, I wondered, “Where is God?” Joe was leaving behind a wife and family. How could this possibly work out for anyone’s good? Why does it seem that the good die young?
Several years later I stood beside the body of a baby girl who’d been discarded among the trash alongside a creek that runs through the city. It’s an image I can’t forget. The case remains open.
Last December we mourned for the twenty children and six adults gunned down at an elementary school in Connecticut. Days later, two firefighters in New York were ambushed and killed while responding to a house fire. There are many other examples of such human depravity, and we know there will be more. Where is God in all of this?
As believers we wait. We wait not for eventual calamity but for Jesus Christ himself. And as we live and wait, I begin to understand what the prophet Habakkuk means when he tells the people of Judah to wait for the revelation—a revelation that will come and not be false (Hab. 2:3). In this revelation of undeserved grace, salvation comes to those who love Jesus. It’s the revelation of Romans 8:28, where we’re told that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
Abraham’s willingness to slay his son in obedience to God (Gen. 22) will always be a horrendous concept. But so begins our covenantal relationship with God. This solemn act of obedience is the harbinger of something much greater. Jesus, the Son of God, hanging on a cross in absolute shame and unconceivable pain, is the sacrifice given for our atonement. It’s amazing grace.
Along with Habakkuk, we wait for the revelation of Jesus Christ. We wait in a broken and crying world. And while we wait, we have an assignment. God calls us to love one another and to serve one another in love (John13:34). It is a love that has no room for apathy, a love that may even require a supreme sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
In my humanness I remain uncomfortable. Amid challenges, I continue to look for God, not always understanding his ways. But for now I understand with certainty that his way is for our eternal good—for yesterday, for today, and for tomorrow. And that is all I need to know.