‘God moves in mysterious ways’ is a phrase that many of us will have heard at some point. Though it’s often used to describe how a favourable outcome seems to appear out-of-the-blue or from an unlikely source, it also hints at the deeper question of how much we can really comprehend of God’s activity in the world. We want God to be present and fully engaged in our lives, and when something good happens that is beyond our comprehension it reinforces our belief that God is at work and hears our cries. Conversely, there are times when it seems as though God is moving so mysteriously that we begin to wonder whether he (or she) is even moving at all, much to our dismay. Even more frustrating is when God seems absent from a situation, or worse still the cause of it.
Such soul-searching is likely to be a constant companion to those that have suffered in recent months because of tragedies like the Grenfell tower fire or Hurricane Irma. In times of such adversity we want God’s movement to be anything but mysterious and we feel angry that God didn’t do more, or prevent these things from happening in the first place. In the wake of such tragedy questions like ‘where was God?’ and ‘why did God allow this happen?’ are, understandably, never far from our minds. No matter how enlightened our outlook, or how much we appreciate that suffering is an intrinsic part of human experience, or how willing we are to accept the cost of human agency; the fact that bad things still happen to those who don’t deserve it makes God’s ‘activity’ in the world all the more indecipherable.
Yet as a Christian, I still want to defend the notion that God moves in mysterious ways. By this I mean that no matter how imperceptible, God is still active in the world and in situations of need. It may not necessarily be in the direct way that we like to judge such ‘intervention’ to have occurred, but the hallmarks of God’s presence alongside us are never far from even the gravest tragedy. Out of the chaos that follows disaster, do we not also find an abundance of generosity, compassion and loving-kindness? Are these not also signs of God at work in mysterious ways? I’m not saying that I’m content with the fact that people suffer, or that I’m comfortable with the reality that humanity’s great capacity for compassion is so often catalysed by abject need, but in a world that so often defies explanation, belief in a God who walks alongside me, no matter how mysteriously, is something I’d rather not live without.