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Thin Places

Shaken Faith: Where is God When the World is Falling Apart?


I remember a time when I was in college and my mom called to
tell me of two teenagers who were killed in a car accident. It was broad
daylight and they had been walking (or maybe it was skateboarding?) on the side
of the road. And I remember Mom saying that she wasn’t sure her faith could
handle a loss like that. A senseless loss. An
if-only-you’d-been-there-five-minutes-later loss. And, more than that, the loss
of a child, a child filled with all the possibility of decades that ought to
have been.


Now that I have children of my own, I resonate more with my
mother’s comment, but at the time, I thought, “Bad things happen every day.
Someone out there loses a child, a spouse, a friend, every day. Your faith
shouldn’t be shaken only if bad things happen to you. It is either firm no
matter your personal situation, or it is falling apart.” I suppose I was right
on some level. Any honest faith in God should contend with the reality of
devastating brokenness in our world, whether or not that brokenness hits home personally.
And yet I know that those questions of God’s goodness in the face of human
suffering weren’t real to me until my friend ran his car into a tree and died,
until my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, until pain became


Kent Annan’s new book, After Shock: Searching for Honest
Faith when your World is Shaken
, addresses the questions he has for God in the
wake of the earthquake in Haiti. Annan had lived in Haiti for two years and had
worked with Haitian people for nearly a decade prior to the earthquake (he
writes about this experience in Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle,
which I reviewed for Books and Culture last year). He witnessed the devastation
firsthand, and After Shock recounts his anger and despair as he walks with his
friends through their broken city, their broken land.


Annan raises the same questions that have always been raised in the face of tragedy, and yet because he is personally connected to the people impacted by the quake, these questions come across not as theological diatribes but as earnest and necessary dialogue with God. Towards the end of this slim volume, Annan explains why he wrote it: “I’ve been writing this book because my faith might die. I don’t want it to. But I don’t want a sentimental faith. I didn’t know where this search would lead, whether I would be able to claw my way to gratitude as at the end of Psalm 13. I do want any part of my faith that isn’t true to die…” After Shock is an account of faith in crisis, a faith that has been shaken forever and yet remains.


After my friend died in that car accident years ago, I set aside an afternoon to talk with God about what had happened. I went to a beach where my friend and I had spent time together. I brought a journal, some pictures, my Bible, and a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. I read the whole book in one sitting, and Lewis’ account of how he handled his wife’s death was a gift. He guided me through my own grief.


After Shock reminds me of A Grief Observed because it too could guide anyone whose faith has been shaken and is on the verge of being shattered. It too offers raw questions and refuses trite Christian answers. And it too holds out hope that the God manifested in Jesus Christ is still God, still loving, still giving, still good. Annan describes taking Communion amidst the rubble of Port-au-Prince: “The rubble seems like evidence of God’s absence or abandonment, and yet here I sit, taking and eating the rubbled body of Christ. Here, week after week, people come to find Jesus. The rubble may make him harder to find, but maybe, like the wafers in the center of this leveled church, he never left and never will.”


I recommend this book for anyone who has honest questions for God in the face of suffering, for anyone who yearns to believe in God’s goodness amidst the rubble. 

Comments read comments(6)
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Ellen Overmann

posted March 4, 2011 at 10:47 am

Thank you for this post. My mother died unexpectedly on December 30th, and I have been searching for a book that might help my father explore and process his questions of faith at this time. You seem to have offered two great suggestions. Much appreciated!

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posted March 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Unfortunately, in the world the way it is, people will probably continue to suffer tragedies. And it’s really good that there are books like the one you mention to help people deal with their grief. But I believe no tragedy on earth is God’s fault. Rather, it’s the fault of humankind for failing to keep its connection with Him/Her/Them. As long as humankind as a whole fails to respond to God’s love, His power can’t work through us to bring the world to a state where it’s under His control, where it works perfectly and “there shall be no more death”, as it was put in the Book of Revelation. If God wasn’t so loving after all the millennia of wrong human function, we probably wouldn’t still be here. What a beautiful opportunity we have to repair our connection with God now and do what we’re really here to do. I discuss some of these things on my blog on spiritual things, and I invite you to have a look.

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posted March 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

No tragedy is “God’s” fault because there’s no god. That should be comforting; nothing that happens is due to a moral failing of yours or of someone dear to you. It may be due in part to carelessness or bad habits, and probably in large part to bad luck. But you don’t have to worry about your relationship to a god because there isn’t any and you don’t have to worry about how you’ll spend eternity because you’ll just be dead, like everyone else.

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Susan Wagener Higgins

posted March 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm

My experience with grief at the moment of the tradegy is that God was more real and I was closer to heaven than I have ever been. The challenge is to not feel sorry for your life, as it did not turn out as you had planned. The sun will always come up tomorrow. I take the mantra of General Grant of the civil war, no matter how badly he lost a battle the day before, he had a new battle plan the next day. We fight the enemy of dispare when we loose a loved one. Yet we have the hope of heaven. We have a risen savior who still walks with us each day. He has hope for each day and His life for each moment. He has never failed me. When I fail, it is because I didn’t look to him. I continually need to be renewed in my love each day.
Grant was writing his memoirs on the day he died to take care of him family after his death. He was continually reinventing himself. His memoirs did care for his family. Don’t know Grant’s faith position, but his battle strategy has benefited my earthy life. follow……….Susan

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posted March 6, 2011 at 10:38 pm

How wonderful that sharing the exciting event with friends. There is no better way than wearing the team’s Cheap baseball jerseys to focus on their matches to express the love for a team. In this case, the Cheap baseball jerseys are sold hot online. If you are a fan of MLB, you should not miss the Cheap baseball jerseys.

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posted April 27, 2011 at 2:34 pm

nnmns, When you get a chance put your nose up against your arm and you will feel a breath upon it. This is God breathing for you the breath of life. Genesis 2:7 says, And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. When you tell people when they die there just dead, you give them no hope. Hope to never rise again to life or see there loved ones ever. But, thanks be to God has a perfect plan for everlasting life.

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