Crises have filled the past two years around the world. In North America, we have experienced crises caused by political unrest and the injustices of systems with histories that continue to disadvantage some of our fellow citizens, even in life-threatening, life-shortening, and life-taking ways. We have witnessed a crisis of the democratic system of government and a common commitment to traditional values in the United States on a scale not scene in our country for over 150 years. With the entire world we have suffered a pandemic of proportions not experienced for a century or more. We have read about and seen in the media—and perhaps ourselves endured—fires of spectacular proportions, flooding with overwhelmingly destructive power, earthquakes reducing homes to rubble, intense cold disrupting entire power supplies, heat and drought frazzling people and crops. Why all these crises?

Those crises fall on top of the individual crises we also experience: Crises of illness, of job loss, loss of friends through alienation and anger, transfer of residence, and death. Crisis is, of course, in the final analysis not just a matter of recent history. Since the Fall, human lives have been filled with crises. This gives us pause to remember that the English word “crisis” comes from the Greek “krisis,” meaning judgment.

It is impossible and dangerous to try and associate specific crises with specific sins as was sometimes done after 9/11 or is being done in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Societies are always producing sufficient evils from which their populations should repent to make such things possible, but God’s mind and plan are not so easily placed under our control as we sometimes think and wish. Our attempts to sort out why God is patient with some and rushes to judgment with others usually frustrate our best efforts to make sense of a life which seems beyond our control. Some crises result seemingly quite directly from our transgression of God’s boundaries for good human living, and some seem to bring agony to the wrong people. In any case, the “judgments” disrupting our daily lives, whether individual or common, whether old and repeated or new and confusingly surprising, remind us how life has gone askew, that things are not the way they were in Eden. Our expression labeling some even “an act of God” refers almost without exception to negative and seemingly unforeseeable events. God takes the blame for many of our experiences of this judgment in crisis, but ultimately, he is not at fault for the disruption of life on the planet. Judgment falls on us, whether we are victims of other people or forces of nature or are perpetrators of dumb mistakes or evil intentions. These happenings take place because all of nature, even human nature, is groaning under human doubt of His Word and defiance of His lordship.

These happenings take place because all of nature, even human nature, is groaning under human doubt of His Word and defiance of His lordship.

Not always—or only in retrospect—do we notice how the crises of our lives cultivate the sense that their cause lay in us or with us. Often, we believe we are innocent victims, and in some cases this is true. We simply get in the way of the ambitions or desires of another person. But whether at least partially responsible or not at all responsible for the crisis that descends upon us, we also may come to focus so clearly on the crisis that we see in it some bit of blessing in disguise. We are then able to come to terms with crises when we no longer experience them as a fire that burns us out, but rather as a blaze which clears away the underbrush. Such a blaze may hurt just as much, but the result is we become stronger, not weaker, through the crisis.

God asserts His presence in our lives in anger for our failures. Not every crisis should be so understood, but crises should remind us again that we enjoy the privilege of having a parent who cares enough about us to be disturbed by our damage to ourselves and by living apart from His plan for the good of human life. In His disappointment about our wandering away from Him and His worry about our misery that sin inevitably imposes, He expresses His bewilderment and disgust. Even as they feel the fury of their Creator, believers have trust enough to plop themselves into the Father’s lap in order to feel the heat of His disgust with them turn into the warmth of His fondness for them.

We also experience that, precisely in the midst of crisis, God asserts His presence in our lives. He emerges as our providential lord, who accompanies us step by step during the crisis. He may even provide positive and pleasant paths out of these crises through Christ, taking care of us and making Himself accountable for our welfare. In the midst of crisis, He makes us aware of our failure to notice His day-in and day-out presence in our lives and attention to our needs which we too easily take for granted. As He helps us face and cope with crises and supports us as we traverse the stony paths, He reminds us of His desire to be our Immanuel, present and perceived in every minute of life.

As He helps us face and cope with crises and supports us as we traverse the stony paths, He reminds us of His desire to be our Immanuel, present and perceived in every minute of life.

God even accompanies us through the worst of our crises, the crises of consciences that convict and condemn us. Such crises sometimes exaggerate our offense, but even then, the exaggeration becomes the reality with which we struggle. Too often a crisis of conscience is justified because of our failure to focus on our Lord and to take seriously His plan for daily life. Jesus experienced our crisis of conscience on the cross as He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” He felt the Law’s pronouncement of death on those who had earned sin’s wage. He sensed the abandonment and isolation which comes when guilt or shame blind us to the presence of God next to us. He bore the consequences of our thinking that God has deserted us when the case is we have deserted God and done it willfully.

Therefore, it is precisely from the cross that the glory of God shines most brightly into our lives, as dark and sinister as Golgotha appears from a sinful distance. Cross trumps crisis. The cross embodies the glory of God’s steadfast lovingkindness that keeps on loving. The cross expresses most profoundly and clearly God’s desire to be in conversation and community with those who have turned their backs on Him. The crisis—the judgment—of the cross repeats God’s call in Eden, “Where are you?” and it finds us in the body of the Messiah, who has assumed the sin and shame which plagues His people. In this way, He brings His chosen children into a new life that shares in the resurrection which ended the power of every crisis.