I am privileged.
I am white. I am middle class. I am a citizen of the United States, where freedom is expected and poverty hides under bridges.
I have a mom and a dad, both of whom told me daily that they love me, both of whom had stable jobs. I never wondered where I was going to sleep at night. I never worried about money. I never feared for my safety. When I shivered, Dad turned up the heat. When I begged, I begged for toys, not food.
This was a reality I grew to expect for myself and to eventually expect for others as well. Until, at 20 years old, I met Isleta*.
On a summer internship, privileged, college-educated me landed in Guatemala City. I drove down dilapidated streets lined with colorful buildings—their windows barred and their doors protected by security guards and guns. This world was not my own.
After I arrived at the children’s orphanage where I would spend my summer, the giddy girls dragged me by the hand laughing as they showed me their home—their stability, their safety from the terrors that they left on the other side of the gate. In their dress-up clothes, they danced and sang, exuding the pure joy of kids who know they are loved.
Isleta watched from afar. 9 years old, she had arrived at the children’s home only a short time ago. A perpetual frown marked her brow, and the corner shadows hid her from joining the others in their play. Her past—riddled with abuse, neglect, and unfair responsibility—taught her to fear others and to protect herself.
I was struck by her eyes. Large, dark, almonds—a gateway to the depth of her pain.
And while the other girls vied for my attention, I fell in love with her.
Many times that summer—as I tried to make her smile, as I spun her while she squealed, “Vueltas! Vueltas!”, as I told her the Bible story of Noah’s ark and how God keeps his promises—I wondered how God kept his promises with her. How could a loving God have allowed this precious little girl to experience such a tragic first 9 years of life?
You may have asked a version of this same question before: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” . . . “Why did God allow this tragedy to occur?” . . . “If there is a God, doesn’t he care about the suffering in the world?” . . .
That summer I read my Bible daily, a practice I had never been good at before that and have not maintained since. Over and over, I came back to Psalm 10—where my same question had been asked thousands of years before by a king of ancient Israel—David.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (verse 1)
In the next 11 verses (verses 2-13), David details the horrific corruption he sees around him.
“In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.” (verse 2)
“His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.” (verse 7)
“He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless.” (verse 9a)
“His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength.” (verse 10)
David’s words spoke to me as I was surrounded by corruption and wickedness, working with other servants to bring life and hope, all the while wondering where was God in all of this wreckage. And so like David, I cried out. I lamented Isleta’s lost childhood. I begged God to take away her pain. I pleaded with him to rid this land of its enemies, to save its children.
And thank God (literally), that David’s words in Psalm 10 don’t end with his pleas:
“But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand . . . you are the helper of the fatherless.” (verse 14)
“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.” (verse 17-18)
I learned that there really isn’t an answer to the question David and I asked—”why does God allow this?”—at least not one that my human mind can comprehend. And trust me, I realize that isn’t satisfying at all. But until I can ask God face-to-face, I’ve learned to ask other questions . . . “How is God at work in this?” . . . “What can I do in the midst of this?” . . . “How is God revealing his faithfulness through this?” . . .
Guatemala is still corrupt. Now at 14 years old, Isleta likely still experiences pain from her past. And every day, there are more children like her who face the same reality she did for 9 years.
But I also know that Isleta is safe, just like many other children that are cared for by volunteers, missionaries, and NGOs. And I know that God sees our trouble and grief; he promises to defend all the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that they may terrify no more (Psalm 10:14,18).
This Christmas, I received a card with Isleta’s picture—those beautiful almond eyes smiling at me—and a few of her “favorites” listed . . . “Favorite color: red. Favorite class: computers. Favorite Bible story: Noah’s Ark.”
Whether I always see it or not, God does keep his promises.
*Named changed for privacy.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on God’s goodness in a world full of evil from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.