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Where is God in All This?

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Dick Eick
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost and Father’s Day
Zion United Church of Christ
Waukon, Iowa

June 15th, 2008

Scripture Readings

Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 8:23-27
Psalm 104 (selected verses)

 

PRAYER FOR GUIDANCE: Gracious God, you have given us priceless gifts: your Word to guide us, minds to understand, and strength to act on our understanding. Lord, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.                                      Amen

I Don’t Work that Way

            Years ago, Bill Cosby did a comedy routine he titled “Noah.” It’s classic, and I still laugh just thinking about it. In an early scene, God is explaining to Noah HOW he is to build this ark. As he listens, Noah is getting all confused by God’s directions, and at one point, he bursts out, “You’re God Almighty, why don’t you just build it yourself?!” With a sigh in his voice, God replies, “Noah, you know I don’t work that way!”                                           (Repeat)

            The focus for my sermon this morning is “How does God work?”

            Lots of people in Cedar Rapids, Elkader, Iowa City, Cedar Falls, Waterloo and in Decorah feel rather like Noah. People have lots of questions related to this weather related catastrophe. When will the flood waters crest? Will there be more rain today? When can I get back into my home? How will I get my home cleaned up and fit for habitation? Lots of practical questions.

            But some of the questions being asked are theological questions. With an abundance of awful weather that has been happening all over Iowa, many people of faith are asking the question: Where is God in all this?  And this question raises a second, related question: How does God work?

            A friend and parishioner commented the other day, “And I’ve been praying to God that He will stop all this...that He will stop the suffering.”...Where is God in all this weather related devastation and heart ache? Did God cause this terrible weather? Why didn’t God stop the rains after just a little flooding?”

            The sort of tragedy we are experiencing raises all sorts of questions, many of the questions are practical questions. Another set of questions is about the very nature of God. A third question is the age old one about why the good suffer.

If God is God...

            Years and years ago, I took the Westmoreland UCC youth group to see the play JB. JB is a contemporary interpretation of the Book of Job by Archibald McLeish. And Job, of course, is the Old Testament story about a good and righteous man who suffers greatly. At the beginning of the play JB, one of the narrators speaks a little poem that I have never forgotten:

If God is God, He is not good...
If God is good, He is not God...
Take the even, take the odd...                                                                                                        

            Let’s think together about my friend’s comment, “And I pray to God that He will stop all this...” And let’s think about this thought provoking little poem which is an exercise in LOGIC.

If God is God, He is not good...
If God is good, He is not God..                                                                                                       
Take the even, take the odd ...

            My friend’s comment ASSUMES that God is all-powerful... that God is omnipotent. And her statement also assumes that God is focused primarily on the good for me and for you, and more generally, that God is focused on the good  for humankind.

Is God Omnipotent?

            The first line of this poem assumes that God is all-powerful, but NOT good.
If God is God, He is not good...

            If God is an all-powerful God, then the evidence of history (and author McLeish wrote the play JB in the 1950s, not too long after the horrors of World War II) and the evidence of floods in Elkader and Cedar Rapids and the evidence of killer tornadoes at Boy Scout Camps and in Parkersburg implies that God cannot be good.

            If God were all powerful AND good, then He would never allow such awful weather to happen here in Iowa, not to mention allowing earthquakes in China and cyclones in Burma. If God is all powerful and good, then tragedies like this should not happen.

Is God Good, but Not All-Powerful

            The second line of the little poem presents the other logical option for our theological convictions:
If God is good, He is not God...

That is, if God is GOOD, then He is not all powerful. 

Take the even, take the odd!

            With this last line, McLeish is stating that LOGICALLY, you cannot hold both of the positions of this poem at the same time. That is, with all the evidence from history and from recent storms in Iowa, it is logically inconsistent to believe that God is both all powerful and willing the good for you and me.

I Have Chosen the Odd

            Personally, I have chosen to TAKE THE ODD. That is, after lots and lots of thinking about this matter, I have chosen to believe that God is good, AND that God has chosen NOT TO BE ALL POWERFUL...Notice that I said that I believe that God has CHOSEN NOT to be all powerful. 

            There is lots and lots to say about all this. Books have been written about these issues.  For this morning, I want to raise two theological points, briefly.

Created the Natural Order and Left It

            First, as to weather and the natural order: I believe that God the Creator created the natural order, which includes the earth’s weather system, with certain natural laws and principles in place... God put in place reasonable natural laws and understandable scientific principles that govern the world. And after putting this natural order into place, God has (mostly) chosen NOT to intervene in these natural systems.

            Usually this works very well. We in Iowa have benefited enormously from the self sustaining natural order that God created. Because of our geography, we almost always have adequate rainfall. We have numerous rivers that nourish our landscape. And we have rich and productive soil that usually produces abundant, abundant crops for food. In many ways, Iowa is one of the garden spots of the world. In so many ways, we have been blessed by God’s self sustaining natural order here in northeast Iowa.

            Rarely... but sometimes...Occasionally, BUT sometimes, a perfect storm comes together, and we suffer from too much water...we suffer from too much of something that IS ORDINARILY A VERY GOOD THING. Many people from many parts of the world would love to have the water resources that we take for granted. BUT occasionally, we have too much of this good thing, and we have to endure and clean up after a flood.

            So to review: First, I believe that God chose to set aside His power after He created the natural order, with its various laws and principles, and in essence, decided to let the system “run” as He had planned and designed it.

God Crawled Up on the Cross

            The second and more important theological point I want to make this morning is that God chose to set aside His power when He came to earth in Jesus the Christ.

            German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived and ministered under Hitler, so Bonheoffer had many reasons to ponder why the good suffer. He had many opportunities to ask why God seemed to do nothing to alleviate the suffering of scores of thousands of Jews and others during Hitler’s Third Reich.

            And after thinking deeply about the evil that Hitler brought, Bonhoeffer wrote about how in Jesus, God came down to earth and crawled up on the Cross.                                                                        (Repeat)

            You could also say that in the Christ child, God came down to earth, set aside His power, and crawled into a manger.

            By coming to earth in a poor carpenter, God chose to set aside His power in order to show us that He fully understands our lot as human beings. And by coming to earth in Jesus Christ, the great Teacher, God set aside His power in order to teach us how He wants us to relate to others... God set aside His power in order to teach us how to serve one another in love and with hope.

            Theologian and management consultant, Laurie Beth Jones has written in Jesus, CEO (pp 250ff):

            Jesus, the Leader, served his people. Most religions teach that we are put here to serve God; yet in Jesus, God is offering to serve us... Jesus, the One who represented God – Christ, the One who was imbued with all the power of God – approached people and asked, “How can I help you?”  “May I wash your feet? ... May I heal your pain?... May I cast out your crazy demon?”... He did all these things... because he was coming from one power: LOVE. To love is to serve. And Jesus taught us and showed us that GOD IS LOVE.

But I Came In a Motor Boat

            A story to finish our reflections this morning.  A story that I have told before... It is about a gentleman who was caught in a flood. He was sure that God would save him, so he did not evacuate as his neighbors left their community. And after a time, the flood waters got higher and higher. When the water had filled the first floor of his house, a police motor boat came by, and the policeman called to him through a second story window. “No! NO! I am sure God will save me,” he replied.

            The flood waters rose even higher, and as he was crawling out a second story window onto the roof, a neighbor rowed by in a row boat, calling for him to get in. “No! NO! I am sure God will save me. You go ahead and help someone else.”   

            Finally, the flood waters forced him to climb to the very peak of the roof, and a helicopter flew over, and dropped down a line and one of the crew members called for him to grab a hold. And one more time he declared, “No! NO! I am sure God will save me. You go ahead.”

            A few minutes after the helicopter flew away, the water engulfed the gentleman, and he drowned and went to heaven. But in heaven, he was quite angry, and the first opportunity he got, he confronted God Almighty: “Lord, I’ve been faithful to you all my life, and I knew that you would save me. How could you let me down, and let me drown?”

            “What do you mean I let you down and let you drown?!” replied God. “I sent you the police in a motor boat! I sent you a neighbor in a row boat! And I sent you a rescue team in a helicopter!...Why did you ignore my offers to save you??!!”

            God has planted His Spirit in our hearts and souls... a Spirit of love ...a Spirit of caring. And then God set aside His power, came down to earth and first, crawled into the manger, and then onto the Cross to teach us about how to offer loving service to others.

            Where is God in ALL THIS?  God is with the various folk in the boats, saying, “Come along! We are here to carry you to safety!” God is in the countless thousands of neighbors helping neighbors, in Cedar Rapids and Decorah, and in central China, and in Burma. God is with neighbors helping neighbors to clean up their water ruined businesses and flood soaked basements. God is in neighbors helping neighbors at shelters, serving food, contacting relatives, providing medical care.

            God designed the world so that some painful stuff happens along with much wonderful stuff. But God also designed us human beings so that we feel compassion toward others who are in need. And through His Son God also taught us: You are my helping hands, my healing hands. I will work in you and with you to bring healing and hope and goodness to my wounded world.

Those who have ears,
let them hear. Amen!

 

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