I have some questions for God. And, oh boy, I just saw about 50 people go like this in unison. I have some questions for God. I was at my office hours on Wednesday at Cafe Agora and Janet Dobbs was there. And she was telling me about a relative of hers. Someone who had suffered just so much loss in their life, had seen so much suffering from the people they loved, and had lost so many. And when somebody asked this relative about their faith, Janet remembered they had one sentence. I have some questions for God. And don't we all have some questions for God.
The images and the news coming from Ukraine have shaken us, many of us, right down to the very core. What we have seen. What we have heard. How can God let that happen to people? How can a maternity ward be shelled? And how can pregnant woman, so, so pregnant be taken. And we look at that image and we see God, are you seeing what we see? And to hear that she lost that baby. And to hear that after she lost that baby, she said to the doctors, let me die. And to hear that she died. Oh, I have some questions for God.
I think Linda Woodbury summed it up very well in the E-news this week. She was writing about our response to Ukraine and then came this line. Our faith is challenged by these events. And isn't that true? And what kind of a faith would we have? What kind of hearts would we have if we were not challenged by events like this in our world, by news like this, by images like this? We've always been asking God this question. I mean, always. This is the great historical question that people yell up to God. Why? What is wrong with you? Why is this world the way that it is? Why didn't you step in? And we keep on asking it.
And none of the answers that we receive are very satisfactory, are they? We hear well, God wants to give us freedom. And so freedom means a lot of terrible things. And we say, well, what about an earthquake? We didn't do anything to cause an earthquake. And what about that maternity ward in Ukraine? God couldn't have just blown up that one shell about 30 seconds earlier. So it blew up in the sky instead of landing in the middle of that hospital. That wouldn't have stopped anybody from being free from shooting it. God would've just stepped in and taken care of it so that no one was hurt. If God is all powerful and God is all good. How could God not do that? I'm not all good. I'm lousy a lot of the time. I'm certainly not all powerful. But I could tell you if I could have stopped that shell from hitting that hospital, I would've done it. Wouldn't you have done it. Wouldn't you have stopped it from hitting that hospital. Then why didn't God?
This is an age old question. And we're not satisfied by the answers because we keep asking the question?
The Galileans in Jesus' day, they were also asking this question. They asked it of Jesus in our scripture reading this morning. They were asking him about those Galileans, whose blood Pilot mingled in their sacrifices. We're not entirely sure about the historical event here, but from the context and from the history, we can imagine what happened. There were a group of some number of Galileans who were down in Jerusalem to offer religious sacrifices. They were basically in church at prayer. And we've seen this happen in our modern world, somebody came into the place of worship. In this case, it was the state, the Roman Empire, Pilot. And while they were at sacrifice, while they were kneeling down in prayer, he slaughtered them and their blood ran into the blood of their sacrifices. And everyone wanted to know how can God let something like that be done to people at prayer. And what is Jesus' response? It's very interesting response. Repent. Or you will perish the like they did. I don't know about that answer. Is that satisfying to you? Let's try and think about that answer a little bit.
One of the things that Jesus says here, before he tells us all to repent, is he asks them. He says, do you think that they were somehow worse than everybody else? And that's why this happened to them. This was a big worldview in ancient times. That people to whom terrible things had happened, the way you could explain it is those people must have done something to deserve it. Blame the victim. Now I wish I could tell you all that we had evolved out of blame the victim, but if you look at any shooting of an unarmed black man in recent history, we all know that we continue to do this. Well maybe if he had just spoken more respectfully or maybe if he had just gotten in the car like they were asking to do. Maybe if just this, maybe if just that. Maybe if just this, maybe if just that. Maybe. We still blame the victim and Jesus is telling them don't blame the victim. They weren't any worse than you. They didn't do anything more to deserve it. Stop it. That's interesting.
Jesus is turning this back on us a little bit, as we try to turn it towards God. Now we continue to do this, even in more subtle ways. I had a friend recently who lost her sister to COVID-19 And she posted on Facebook about her sister's death, announcing her sister's death and just letting everybody know she died because of COVID. And she had to take the post down. And I bet you can imagine why. I bet you can imagine what that Facebook post became obsessed with. People asking one particular question. Can you imagine what that question was? Was she vaccinated? So sorry to hear this? Oh my gosh, was she vaccinated? Was she vaccinated? And what's it matter? She has died. Why do we need to know at this point, whether she was vaccinated or not. I'll tell you why we want to know, because we want to believe that she did something or didn't do something that got her killed, and that God doesn't let people who do all the right things die of COVID-19. Right?
When we hear about a family who loses somebody unexpectedly, maybe they're a little bit young and they don't say what happened. We all want to know why. Do you know what happened? Do you know what happened? Now in part that's because we're loving and faithful. But in part it is because we want some sort of information that we can latch onto and say, oh, that's why they died. They were addicted. He died of liver failure. Well, how did that happen? We want to know that he was an alcoholic. So then we can say, But I'm not an alcoholic. And therefore tragedy like this, God won't let it happen to me. God won't let that happen to me. It was a tragic car accident. Was he drinking? Yes, he was drinking. Oh, then I know why God let that happen to him. And I know why God won't let it happen to me. And what does Jesus say? Stop it. Stop it. You're not any different. You're not any different from them.
Jesus is asking us to stop blaming people for their suffering, and to stop imagining that we are somehow special or chosen or doing all the right things that we can escape that suffering. We even see this when tragedy strikes and it's a near miss. When the tower falls and there's a hundred people in the tower and one comes out alive. And we all rush to that person after they've been dug out out of the rubble, and we ask them, how did you survive? How did you survive? What does the faithful person say? God saved me. What about the 99? There's an implication there, when we say God saved me. About all the people whose prayer wasn't answered in the same way. It's a way of separating ourselves.
And it's a way of saying that God's salvation, which we should all be talking about and which we should all be thankful for applies to the one who is blessed and healthy, more than it applies to the one who's had a bomb dropped on their maternity hospital. And that's not true. Jesus says, stop looking to God For the answer of why things are bad and turn to yourselves. Repent. Don't separate your selves from that suffering. Don't try to put a wall between you and the people who are getting hurt. And the people who are having towers dropped on them, and the people who are being oppressed, and the people who are being slaughtered at prayer. There is no difference between you and you need to repent to remove that wall. All to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in that pain.
One of the problems here is that we don't understand the word repent anymore. Repent for us is synonymous with feeling really lousy about just how absolutely lousy we are. And there's a reason for that. In the ancient world, I've preached to you about this before, language was different. It was a little bit simpler. There wasn't a big division between the idea of regret and repentance in ancient languages. But in the Greek, when Jesus says repent, the word is metanoia. And that literally means, not feel bad, but change your mind. Change your mind not in some superficial way, but change your mind fundamentally. Change the way you think. Change the way you operate in this world. Change the way you think about that person on the other side of suffering. Change the way you think about yourself when you have escaped suffering. Bring yourselves closer together, turn yourself around, come closer together. Repent.
In the Hebrew, which Jesus would've understood, the word for repent, it means to feel sorry. It means to repent. And it also means to offer comfort to someone. There's no difference here. When Jesus says, repent. He's not saying feel bad because you're lousy. He's saying stop the separation. Don't let that come between you. There is a wall, tear it down, come to them, comfort them. Be with them. In faith, we want to turn the blame on God. And let me be very clear with you. I have some questions for God. I am not saying you're wrong to have questions for God. And one day I'm going to stand before God and I am going to let God know that I have questions, that this isn't easy for me. Just like it's not easy for you.
But here's what I think Jesus is saying to us when Jesus comes to us. Jesus is saying, and it's hard for me to say this, because when you're mourning and when you're hurting and when you're suffering, this is very difficult news to hear. And it should never be separated from the fact that God loves you. That God is with you. That your church is with you. That your church is responding to you. And that the world should be responding to your suffering and your pain, and that we are with you. But what Jesus is saying to us is that your desire to live in a world where God fixes everything, and everything is just nice and hunky dory all the time is infantile. Grow up, Repent.
You see somebody suffering and you turn to God and you say, why isn't the world perfect? It's literally psychologically infantile. And Jesus came to us to say, I do not need spiritual infants. I need spiritually mature people to respond to the suffering in the world. Yes, you have questions. Don't get stuck there. Get back into that world, respond to those people. And remember that you are no different, no more blessed than them. You are your brothers, your sisters, your siblings, you are with them. Repent.
And then Jesus tells us a parable, and parables are wonderful things. And I hope as we close here that you keep this parable in mind this week.
There is a landowner who has a fig tree that he is not happy with. There's no fruit on it. And there is a gardener who says, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, don't cut it down. Let me do some more work. Give me a little more time. Let me dig around the roots. Let me pour the manure down there. And then there's this tree. And I'm not going to tell you that God is the landowner, and Jesus is the gardener, and you're the tree. That is for you to struggle with and to figure out. Are you the gardener? Are you the landowner? In what ways are you the tree? What is your manure? That's for you to work out. But I am going to talk to you about one way of thinking about this parable.
Jesus is asking us to find our fruit. In the face of tragedy, Jesus wants us to produce that fruit. And yes, it's hard. And yes, we have questions. But God Has given us a little more time, a little bit of amazing grace. A little more time to tear down that wall, to turn ourselves around, to be no different than the people who suffer.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations