When I woke up yesterday, I was thinking about your FaceBook posting asking prayers for folks in the Oklahoma City area.  Then I found myself thinking about the recent death of my father-in-law.  Basically, I was thinking about the question “why is there suffering or evil in the world?”

I mean, this wouldn’t be a question at all.  Except we believe that God made the world we live in.  We believe that God is good.  We believe that God loves and cares for us.

If all this is true, then why do bad things happen?  Why do people suffer?  Why do people die?

Mind you, at least in my mind, a good deal of this can be put down to a combination of human free will and human perversity.  But even that is part of God’s creation.  Why would our God make that part of creation?  And certainly the facts of disease and natural disaster and death are part of God’s creation too – even if we sometimes contribute to all of the above.  Why did God make the world that way?

I don’t really have answers.

But I do have thoughts.  There are some things I think are true.

I think, for example, that God intends for us to experience life, at least on balance, as a blessing and a joy.  I’m not sure it works out that way for everyone.  Some people suffer from lifelong bouts of deep depression.  Some people experience abusive and tortuous captivity.  I’m not sure they experience life as a blessing – but I do believe that people find blessings, somehow, in all of life’s circumstances.  And I do believe that God intends good for us.  In the words of an African catechism I like to quote:  “Why did God make you?  Because he thought you’d like it!”

I’m also convinced that God acts with power in creation.  I was talking to one of my brothers-in-law this past week.  And he told me that he’d hurt his knee the week before, and the pain was excruciating.  And then, at just about the precise moment his father died, he experienced healing.  Not complete healing.  But most of the pain, a vast majority of the pain, was suddenly gone, and he could move freely.  He attributed it to some combination of his father’s love and God’s love.  He’s likely right.

I had a couple in one congregation who had a child who was born unable to breathe on her own and essentially brain dead.  After several days, they asked me to come and baptize her.

Right after the baptism, her brain started to scan normally and she became responsive.  But she never was able to breathe on her own, and eventually they had to let her go.

Clearly God acted in her life – though not as we’d been hoping and praying.  And through her, and their time with her, it was also clear to me that God acted in their lives too.  There was a bond.  Their was a relationship.  There was growth.

I think I’ve told you before that’s what I think life is all about.  Relationships.  Learning how to be in caring relationships with others, including God.  I believe that’s an important part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

This past month I found something called The Green Bible.  In the forward, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:  “I would not know how to be human, how to think as a human being, how to walk as a human being, how to talk or how to eat as a human being except by learning from other human beings.  I learn to be human by associating with other human beings.  We are thus, according to the Bible, made for family.  We’re made for community, we’re made for togetherness, we’re made for friendship.  We’re made to live in a delicate network of interdependence, for we are made for complementarity … we are made different so that we can know our need of one another …”

“We are made different so that we can know our need of one another.”

I find myself thinking that this may be part of what is behind Jesus telling us that when we do for the least among us we do for him.  Because when we encounter our neighbor, most particularly our neighbor in need, we have the chance to learn and live out the kind of loving care I believe our God has for us – a love I believe came alive in the flesh in Jesus.

I also think that if we didn’t know our time was limited and precious, we’d have far less interest in letting God enter our lives and change us.  We’d have far less interest in putting in the hard and often frustrating work that leads us to growth and maturity.  We wouldn’t value our relationships in the same way.  We wouldn’t, I think, care about the world around us nearly as much.  And we wouldn’t experience our lives and the blessings of our lives as gifts we could never give ourselves.

In our marriage ceremony we are asked if we will support the new couple in their life together – a life lived in something that is a new creation made in the love of God.  In our baptismal service we are asked if we will support the newly born Christian in their life in Christ.  In both cases, we promise that we will do so.  I find myself experiencing this from both sides.

I know in my own life, in times of real trouble and difficulty, it has most often been the loving care of the community around me that has enabled me, over time, to live through the challenges into new life.  In a very real way, your love, the love of the community around me, has become the channel for God’s love to enter into my life when I face adversity.

And sometimes, I think, my loving care has helped others.

I still don’t have answers.

I don’t fully understand why God allows us to experience adversity and evil and suffering in our lives.

But I do have a sense that my life is richer, deeper, more authentic … from having, with the help of others, moved through these experiences in my life … and from having lived, with others, through these experiences in their lives too.  I have learned to be more truly human, in the loving image of my God.

 

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

Advertisements