Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Injustice All Around Us—But Where is God?

The Nativity scene on our neighbor’s lawn was decimated.  Mary, Joseph, angels, and stable animals were strewn about, and an adult figure of Jesus was partly covered with the collapsed stable roof.   Just the day before, we had watched as a grandfather, father, and son assembled the Nativity and added lights for nighttime viewing as a testimony of their faith in the virgin birth.  But now, it seemed that their labor had been in vain.

Who would do such a thing?  What’s more, how could God allow this to happen? 

On the same day of the “nasty Nativity,” the news from northern Iraq added more gruesome details of how the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had continued in its pillaging of villages, brutalizing and killing residents, and carrying off women and children.  All the while, the opposing factions remained committed to defending their homes and villages, many willing to die for their faith in Christ while using limited weaponry to fight off the ISIS pillagers.

What kind of people would do such a thing?  What’s more, how would God allow this to happen? 

As I pondered these questions, I wondered if there is any place on Earth where one can truly find sanctuary, a place of refuge where a person can be safe and accepted among friends and family.  Is there any place where one can be encouraged in things that are “true, honorable, right, and pure?”  Then, I remembered an unfortunate situation that occurred in a place that should have been a safe sanctuary.  According to the story, a husband and wife had just been saved and had rededicated their lives toward loving and obeying God in obedience to a newfound power of the Spirit within their hearts.  Wanting to share the joy of their walk with Jesus, they invited a lady friend to come to church with them.  This lady had had a hard life because of some bad decisions she had made—some would say she had a “shady reputation.” 

When our newly revived couple introduced her to their pastor hoping she would be drawn closer to God through his encouragement, he greeted her politely, but later called them aside and said, “We don’t want her kind in our church.”  How devastated they were!  Wanting to be the hands and feet of a welcoming Savior, they were instead crushed in their faith. 

What kind of pastor (shepherd) would do such a thing?   How could God allow this to happen?

As I’m writing, a grey squirrel frolics in the branches of the oak tree outside my study.  The cute little fuzz ball reminds me of another puzzling event that I witnessed recently.  While raking leaves in our front yard, I observed our neighbor’s cat walking stealthily across the front of our house and disappear around the corner.  In a few minutes, I heard a raucous outburst of protest from squirrels in the backyard.  I looked toward our house and saw the cat returning with her prey—you guessed it, a squirrel hanging limply from her jaws.  Meanwhile, what seemed like angry protests in squirrel language continued to sound from the backyard.  Then, all was silent, except for a pathetic, solemn utterance from one squirrel that repeated every 10 seconds for another 5 minutes.  I paused and listened to what seemed to be an expression of mourning, perhaps by a mate for her lost companion.

Gray Squirrel "mourning" the death of  her mate?
What kind of world gives us frolicking squirrels punctuated so quickly by mournful death?   And, what kind of a Creator would allow life to be snuffed out so quickly without warning?
Perhaps a disheveled Nativity scene in the eyes of the boy and his family is a small thing.  After all, it can be restored.  But such events have a way of lodging in the memory of a child and could plant a seed of doubt or confusion.  Is this how the world, or God, responds to the good intentions of a family?

On the other side of the world, Syrian and Iraqi Christians must wonder whether their commitment to Jesus Christ is worth losing their homes, their children’s lives, or their own lives to the murderous actions of terrorists.  Where is God Who promised never to leave us or forsake us?

All around us are Christians who extend a hand to help a neighbor only to be misunderstood.  Or who invite a friend to their church only to experience disappointing behavior from supposed “people of God.”  Where is God’s power in His church where people ought to hear His invitation to come unto Me all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest… (Matthew 11: 28)?

Even God’s creatures seem to convey the message, “Something is wrong.  Something is not quite right.”  Where is the promise of a loving, caring Creator Who asked His disciples, Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10: 29). How can  God be attentive to the minutia of His creation without being deeply touched by the mournful sound of a squirrel at the death of its mate?

Christmas is a season of contrasts.  It has been that way since the night of Christ’s birth—a light piercing the darkness; a King born in a lowly stable; a Child of God being hunted down by a powerful and murderous king.  These contrasts seem to us to represent a chasm between “what is” and “what ought to be.” But Jesus was well aware of this chasm, and He declared, in the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16: 33).  And so we wait, and we wonder how many more storms, personal trials, and deaths will occur before Christ returns to establish His kingdom in justice and righteousness on Earth. 

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.   – Romans 8: 22-23

Reader Comments Welcomed:   How do you reconcile calamities in creation or in the daily news or in a person’s life, with the notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and personal God?   If you are a Christian and are awaiting Christ’s return, how do you balance your wait with work so that each expresses the faith and power of God’s Spirit within you?   How might the season of Advent be a good time to bring biblical faith to bear on these questions?

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