Summary: How are we like those who question God’s control of the world? How will we respond to suffering and disaster in the world: Whining or Worship?
Sermon Four: The Old Testament Prophets & The World of 2005
Lord, I was just Wondering...
In his happy book Farewell to God, Charles Templeton, former crony and companion of Billy Graham, details his reasons for rejecting the Christian faith. In one particularly enlightening chapter, The Patience of Job, Templeton turns his disillusionment with God towards the story of Job. He writes:
YHWH makes a wager with his adversary, Satan, that Satan cannot shatter Job’s faith. To back this assertion, he gives Satan free hand to do his worst without troubling to notify Job that he is to be the pawn in the game. To make his point, YHWH has Job’s livestock stolen, his servants murdered, his house burned, and his children killed in a fire. Then, for emphasis, he afflicts Job with a loathsome and agonizing disease. When, finally, Job does complain, YHWH mounts a braggadocio defence and concludes by asking Job a pointed question: Is he willing to put YHWH in the wrong in his wager with Satan so that he, Job, may be justified?
At this, Job repents of his complaining and YHWH wins the wager. Job returns to a life of luxury and all’s right with the world although one cannot but ask: if God had killed your children simply to make a point in an argument, would the granting to you of other children make up for the horrible deaths and the loss of the first?
It is an immoral story and it portrays and immoral God. And it does nothing to answer the problem it sets out to deal with namely, the problem of evil. Moreover, there was no need to do so; the biblical answer had already been given. In the Genesis story of the Creation we are told that suffering is God’s punishment for sin. Because of the first man’s disobedience in the garden, all his descendants must suffer sorrow, sickness, pain and death.
Let the reader put the question: Is this the truth at the heart of life? And is it possible to believe this and continue to believe that God is Love? (Templeton, Farewell to God)
If you think about the Bible in its entirety, you come to the conclusion, I think fairly quickly and fairly fairly, that the people who wrote the Bible spent a considerable amount of time simply complaining to God about one thing or another. The Book of Job is one big complaint. Many of the Psalms are mere complaints about one thing or another. Many of the Prophets complain. The book of Numbers would not exist if the Israelites did not complain so much in the desert. And then there is Habakkuk.
How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
Let me make this a little more modern for you.
Lord, I have just been wondering: What is going on in this world? Where are you? God if you are so powerful, if you are so mighty, if you are so amazing and if you are a God of love, then why did all those people die yesterday at a funeral no less at the hands of another bomber? Lord allow me to be honest there is so much hatred and violence in this world that I don’t even feel like reciting it any longer. There is war, violence, hatred, aggression. There are children killing children; children killing parents; parents killing children.
Lord, I have just been wondering: What is going on in this world?
But that’s just me. I am one small person amidst all those who also cry out and say, Lord, what is going on in this world? People like Charles Templeton. I’m sorry, but in a sense I am Charles Templeton. I have the same questions, the same fears, the same angst, the same trepidation and the same solicitude. What am I supposed to feel or think? Salmon Rushdie said somewhere, "The Barbarians were not only at our gates, but within our skins." And I think what he means is that I am just as capable of the violence I call out to God to condemn.
I’m like anyone else in this world: I want God to swoop down on his White Horse and wave his magic wand and make it all go away. I want some peace, some tranquility, a place to raise my sons without all the attendant fears that come along with raising sons and I don’t mean the broken bones and childhood illnesses. I mean the violence perpetrated against the suspecting and unsuspecting, against the children and by the children, by the violent and the peaceful. I cry out, "Lord, I’ve just been wondering." I wonder out loud, "Lord, how many more criminals are going to get away? How much more injustice will be perpetuated? Lord, how many more sixteen year olds who are accused of killing seventeen people will escape from their prison confines?" I cry out with those beheaded ones under the altar, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? How long Lord will we be told to wait a little longer?"