This sermon was delivered by Leigh Rachal on July 21. Based on Mark 4:35-41.
Life is not fair….
Ever heard that before?
This phrase was told to me by various adults throughout my childhood.
“But Jenny’s mom is letting her go to the party. It’s not fair that my friends get to go and I have to stay home….” “Sorry. Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”
My mom didn’t tolerate whining. So I learned to stop whining out loud. But I’ve never truly stopped whining. Because I still find myself whining (silently) to God…. And usually, my whine is: But, It isn’t fair….
Sometimes I whine to God when I hear the news of the day…. “God, it isn’t fair that people were shot and killed while they were faithfully attending a church gathering….” “God, it isn’t fair that people in some places in YOUR world can not walk down their neighborhood streets without worrying about bombs or guns.”
And almost daily I whine to God while I’m at work… “God it isn’t fair that some people do not have basic things like a safe place to live and the opportunity for purposeful daily activities.
It isn’t fair. I stand by this statement. I have never “gotten used to it”… nor do I anticipate that I ever will.
When I was a child and I felt particularly gutsy, I would demand that if someone “REALLY cared about me” then they would make the world fair…. “If you really loved me, you would let me go to the party with Jenny….”
And as much as I don’t like to admit it out loud, I occasionally (ok, pretty often), get this gutsy with God…. “God, if you REALLY cared about YOUR people, you would…. make the streets safe. All of them. You would stop the bullets and bombs…. You would provide safety and security for all of YOUR people.”
Come on, God. Don’t you care? Don’t you love your people?
Pretty gutsy, I know…. Or pretty childish, perhaps…. But that is where my faith is most days…..
And, this morning, I find myself in pretty good company. In Mark’s gospel today, the disciples say this same thing to Jesus: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing???”
They are in the boat and the storm starts up. And the boat is being swamped… And Jesus is asleep.
And sometimes when I’m observing all the chaos of the world today, I conclude, with those disciples, that God is asleep at the wheel and obviously does not care that we are perishing down here on earth.
For here we discover the age-old problem – coined “the problem of evil” – the problem Christians (and people of all theistic faiths) have had to wrestle with.
It is often termed as a duality:
Given the amount of evil in the world, either God is not all-powerful and CANNOT get rid of the evil.
God is all-powerful, but is not particularly good because God CHOOSES NOT to get rid of the evil.
Is God All-powerful? Or is God Good? It is hard to see God as both. For some, the answer has been: There is no God. For others, the answer has been that God is an Angry God or a Vengeful God. Still others maintain that God exists, but that God is somehow absent during evil. That evil is the result of the absence of God.
For me, none of those answers to the “problem of evil” are acceptable, partly because my understanding of God is not that of a Being that either exists or doesn’t.
My concept of God is more like Paul Tillich’s The Ground of all Being. That is, that God is not A Being, but rather the Essence of Being. The Is-ness of all that IS – seen and unseen, like we say in our creeds.
Or to use words from Scripture: God is the great “I AM” in which we live and move and have our being. God IS Emmanuel. “God is with us.” Always. The God of our creeds, the God of our Scriptures, is not an absent God.
So when faced with the problem of evil or how to respond when the world does not seem fair and the storms of life overwhelm us (and we are certainly faced with that, plenty!), we might, with many throughout history, turn to the book of Job.
When bad things happen, we struggle between the reaction of Jesus’ disciples to whine that God must not care and the “faith” of Job that refused to give up the concept that God is Good and Fair and could be trusted – despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Just before today’s passage, in the story of Job, Job has suffered tremendous personal and financial loss. And he finally gets up the guts to whine to God that it isn’t fair that he has been so good all of his life and that God is allowing all kinds of bad things to happen to him. And Job sort of demands that if God really cares about him, God will at least explain Godself.
And the answer from God sounds a bit like, “don’t you take that tone with me, young man.”
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know!” This slightly sarcastic God goes on and on and on, really making His point. God sort of reminds me of the mother, whose son gets a little too big for his britches, putting him back in his place: “I carried you around for 9 months and then changed your diapers. If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be alive” And depending on the level of anger, I’ve heard this exchange include a line about how that “being alive” part could easily be reversed! This exchange is usually enough to remind a child that they are not in control. There is a more-powerful being in control of their lives. This is usually enough to get the child to back down a bit.
God’s words in Job seem pretty clear: God created the world and doesn’t need any mere mortals questioning God’s work.
Or maybe God is even saying, “Yep, the world isn’t fair. Get used to it.” But just a couple chapters later, when God’s rant is finally concluding, we get a larger picture:
God tells the story of two creatures – monsters, really – creatures that even God has a hard time controlling. And yet, God controls them. God says “I made this world. But I didn’t JUST make it, I made it safe and inhabitable for humans. I put a limit to how far the tides of the seas can go, created light for the day time, and brought rain to deserts.”
God even created those monsters – that so-called-evil – that came from God, too.
The author of When Good Things Happen to Bad People, Harold Kushner, argues that the monsters in the story of Job are symbols – symbols of powers and principalities that are capable of good, but also capable of evil. Like every aspect of Life. Like you, like me, like every person on earth – with Good and Bad in us. All humans. All institutions. All of the created world, including nature and all of its forces. Fire, is perhaps the best example of this. Fire can be warm and life-sustaining, but it can also be destructive.
Life, it turns out is not a series of either good or bad event performed by either good or bad people. Life is just not that clear cut. Are guns evil? Are people who shoot guns evil? Is this particular person evil? Were these other particular people good? Are we good? Are we bad? What about our thoughts, are they good? Bad? Do we even know the answers? Might the answer be yes and no? I think all things are both good and bad. I believe God created the world, with so much potential for both good and for evil, and yet God declared it Good.
But that potential for evil – in the world and in ourselves – is scary.
And back on the sea with his disciples, when the storm has been calmed, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “why are you afraid?”
And I wonder if they were more afraid of the storm or of Jesus’ power to control the storm. But regardless, fear seems like a perfectly rational reaction to either. As I identify strongly with these disciples, I want to respond: “Jesus, why are we afraid? Are you kidding? Storms kill people. Don’t you watch the news? Storms kill people, and bullets and bombs kill people – and yes, people kill people. Shouldn’t we be afraid? Isn’t that a reasonable response? What do you want from us?” Jesus’ response: “Have you still no faith?”
And indeed, have we no faith? Can we not proclaim along with Paul that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”?
Do we not know when faced with what feels like chaos or evil – when it seems like the good guys are losing and the forces of evil are taking over – do we not know that God is in control? Do we not know that none of the created things can separate us from the love of Christ? Do we not know that no matter the level of evil that is contained in our world – or even in our own hearts, that God is big enough and loving enough to contain it?
Do we not know that God is big enough and loving enough to take all that is evil in us and in the world into Gods own self and to forgive it? Do we not know that God has the final word – even over death, even over the death of many, even over tragedies that we cannot make any sense of – even when we do not understand or see the Good at all?
Even then, God is the One in whom we all live and move and have our being. All of us. Those who are shot and those who shoot. Those who attack and those who defend. Those who praise God and those who curse God. Those who believe and those who doubt. All of us have, as the Ground of our Being, the same God. This God who is an all-consuming, all-powerful force described by Ken Wilbur as a “love so fierce that it adoringly embraces both light and dark, both good and evil, both pleasure and pain equally.”
Don’t we have faith?
Sometimes we can see this so clearly.
Other times, the tragedies and the storms overwhelm us. And we join the disciples in asking if Jesus even cares.
But when faced with the cross, even Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”
So we are in good company in our faith and in our doubt.
And the Good News is that God is with us in both.