Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why Is There Suffering and Evil?

My scripture today is from John 9: 1-7 and it addresses the question…..Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world.

We live in a world where the answer to nearly every question is right at our fingertips. All we have to do is log on to Google, type a question, and in a matter of milliseconds, we have hundreds and sometimes even hundreds of millions of answers to our query. Or, if it’s a little too inconvenient to get to the computer, turn it on, and navigate to the search engine, we can just press the “Home” button on our smart phones and ask Siri our question. It’s quite nice, really. Except for that fact that we are now conditioned to expect a definite answer to all of our questions, and the simple fact of the matter is that there are some questions for which no good answer exists. This question before us today is perhaps the best example of such a question, “Why is there suffering and evil?”

The funny thing is; this is not a new question. Humans have been asking this same question for thousands upon thousands of years; probably as long as we have existed! It is to some degree the question that is asked by the disciples in this morning’s gospel reading, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” They are in essence asking, “Why is this man suffering?” What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t really give them a direct answer. But maybe that’s because as I mentioned a few moments ago, there’s really no one good answer to the question of suffering and evil in the world.

As we seek greater clarity to this question, “Why is there suffering and evil?” I think it best for us to begin by considering why we ask this question in the first place. And for the answer we need to turn to the scriptures. 

In the book of Genesis we are told that as God created the universe and each part of it, God called it “good”; this includes the light, the seas, the land, the plants and vegetation, the animals and creatures, and even humans. So throughout history, faithful God-followers have looked at this story of the “good” creation, and leaned upon their faith in a “good God”, but that knowledge cannot be reconciled with the fact that there is indeed a great deal of “bad” in the world around us. So we ask, “Why?” And for a long time, humanity had a pretty straightforward answer to this question, which was basically that suffering happened because God was punishing a person or group of people for some specific reason.

This answer begins with Adam and Eve, the first humans who, the Bible tells us, defied God’s instructions and ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Their sin broke the relationship of all humanity with God, and subjected us to temptation and sin. We call this original sin. So throughout the Old Testament, we see this sort of cause and effect relationship between humans and God. The humans sin, defy God’s law and mandates, God punishes the humans. God sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians because Pharaoh would not release the Israelites from enslavement. When the Israelites didn’t trust God and built idols in the wilderness, God made them wait 40 years before entering the Promised Land. The Israelites were exiled to Babylon according to the prophets because they had not been following God’s commands and God’s law. So it was for thousands of years. Every earthquake, every disease, every disaster humans explained, was the doing of God, a response to the sin of the people.

But over time, two things have happened that make such a simple response to the question of suffering and evil inadequate. For one, Christ has come, the embodiment of God himself. And in his own suffering and death, we see God’s immense love for all people, and God’s desire to save us, not to harm us. Secondly, science has taught us a lot about the way the natural world works, and with the knowledge we have now, it just doesn’t make sense to point to every natural disaster and say that it is God’s way of punishing humanity (even though some people still like to do this). A good example of this is forest fires. Forest fires sometimes start because of dumb things we humans do, like burning leaves in the middle of a drought, but sometimes they begin with a lightning strike. Often, these fires spread rapidly, they decimate not only forest vegetation, but also animals and birds. They can even force people from their homes. They can cause immense destruction, but forest fires also cleanse the ecology and restore the system to balance, and often the wildlife that returns after a fire is more lush and beautiful than it was before the fire. In the same way, the El Nino weather pattern that is causing so much flooding and extreme weather across the U.S. right now, is also bringing California much needed rain after years of extreme drought.

So, we have to acknowledge that some of the suffering humanity experiences as a result of natural disasters is not God punishing us for some sin or wrong-doing, but is part of the natural order of things. And these disasters don’t make God’s creation, or even God, less good. They are in some ways and at sometimes an unfortunate by-product of keeping creation balanced and healthy. Still, I realize that doesn’t answer for all suffering that human beings experience. What about this question of evil?

Nearly every day the news is filled with war and genocide and terrorist attacks that are causing innocents to suffer around the world. Why doesn’t God, who is all-powerful, prevent such evil? Why doesn’t God stop people from doing evil things? To find the answer to this question, we have to consider free will. Going back again to creation, we are reminded that humans are created in God’s own image, and we were created with the freedom to choose between good and evil. I suppose that God could have created humanity so that we would always choose to do good, but that’s not really freedom, is it? That’s more like robots that have been programmed. And devotion or faithfulness to God would be awfully empty if it were something that were coerced rather than chosen.

So God has given us the freedom to make choices for ourselves. Joshua says, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That is a wonderful choice to make; a life-giving, saving choice; the best choice any person could make. It is the choice God WANTS us to make, but does not coerce us to make. But we also have the freedom to choose to act against God, and it is often such actions that are evil, harmful, and the cause great suffering. In his infinite power and knowledge, God clearly chose to allow for human freedom even knowing there would be negative consequences. Even still, God does not want to see us suffer, whether by our own doing or for any other reason. God really does want good for us, even when we make bad choices.

So it is that suffering, however horrible it may be, provides an opportunity for God’s grace to be at work. And it is God’s grace we need to lean upon in the midst of suffering. This is especially true when we face illness, disease, even death, which are often the most difficult types of suffering to comprehend. You all know that question that goes, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” As we consider such suffering, let’s now take a closer look at our Scripture reading from John.  Join me in John 9:1-7.

John tells this story of a blind man. Unlike blind Bartimaeus and other afflicted people in the gospel stories, this man does not approach Jesus seeking healing. Rather, he is noticed by the disciples as they walk by him in the midst of their work with Jesus. The disciples see this man who has been blind his whole life, and they revert to the common explanation at that time for such affliction, original sin. But the disciples want to know now, since this man has been blind since birth, if his blindness is due to his parents’ sin, or his sin. Jesus’ answer, as you heard, is neither. “This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him,” Jesus tells his disciples. Now, let me just pause for a minute right here to make clear that God does not cause suffering and harm so that he can subsequently heroically sweep in to “save the day.”

Life happens; we make poor choices, natural disaster strikes, our physical bodies fail us. But God does not wish harm for us, in any way. God does not want us to be sick, or hungry, or lonely. Such an idea is completely contrary to the entire Biblical story. God desires good for us. God loves us. God wants to save us. So it is that in the midst of suffering we can find hope. So it is that in the midst of the bad, we can look for the ways God is still working good. Indeed, that man had been suffering from blindness for many long years, not because of his own sin or that of his parents, not even because someone evil had harmed him. Without giving an answer as to the cause of the man’s suffering, Jesus healed the blind man so that his disciples, all of us, can see that God does not leave us alone in our suffering. God is with us and God works to bring good even in the midst of all the bad.

Could you imagine living in this world without such promise and hope, without such faith in a good God? Why is there tragedy? Why suffering? Why evil? These questions can cause us to doubt God and one another. But if a flood comes or a child is born with a heart defect and there is no God, then what answer is there to suffering and evil? What meaning and purpose? Life is nothing but one tragedy after another, and the only thing before us is fear. I would rather live in a world of hope than a world of fear. “I would rather live in the world that has a possibility of God than one that has none, particularly one like ours where evil and suffering” are such a part of our existence. Because “with the possibility of God comes the possibility of meaning, purpose, and hope being found [even] in the midst of tragedy and suffering.” Indeed, we are still left with questions, but at least with faith in the promises of a good God, in the midst of tragedy and suffering, we can always have hope in a better day.

So you’re in the coffee shop with your friends and one says, “Okay, I don’t want a long, complicated answer, but explain this: If God is so good, how come there is so much bad in the world?”

You might respond with something like this, “That’s a tough question with no straight answer, but I know that God is loving and works for good in all situations. In the hardest times of my life, I have experienced God’s love in so many ways that have helped me make it through. I know there is suffering and evil in this world, but I also know that God is a force for good. And I’m a Christian because I want to be part of God’s good work in our world.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Time Ups and Downs

Happy Spring  to one and all! Here are my answers to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. If you want to play along then copy and answer on your own blog, then run back over to Joyce's blog by clicking here and add your link to the party. See you there!

1. Setting aside the real March Madness (NCAA Basketball) describe something happening at your house this month that might earn the title 'March Madness'?  Getting Income Taxes ready to turn into the Preparer.  Stuff was moved all over the place when I was in the hospital and I am still finding receipts and such.
2. What's a favorite made up word from your childhood or a favorite from your children's childhood? Does your family still use the word today? If there's a story behind the origin please share.  Alas, I did not have a made up word when I was a kid.  My mom was a stickler on using words that really existed.  This carried over to my children as well.  If she thought you were using a made up word you would have to go get the dictionary, look it up, write 5 sentences using I made sure I never used them.
3. Will you be doing any spring cleaning now that the season is upon us? I read here a list of 15 quick (under one hour) spring cleaning tasks. They were-

clean out a drawer, vacuum furniture, whiten tile grout, dust the nooks and crannies you don't get to year round, degrease kitchen cabinets, wipe down walls, go behind furniture, wipe down ceiling fans, vacuum the mattress, clean the range hood, wash baseboards, shine the stainless steel, clean out vents, tackle the windows, and wipe down gadgets

Of the fifteen 'quick' tasks listed which two most need doing at your house? Will you do them?  I will be cleaning out drawers, vacuuming furniture and drapes, moving furniture around, wiping down ceiling fans, and several other small activities. These excite me.  I find stuff I did not know I was missing.   I will save the big stuff for after school gets out.
4. A favorite movie set in Paris or New York?  An Affair to Remember and Saturday Night Fever.  Paris would be Ratatoille (spelled wrong I know).
5. What's put a spring in your step this month?  Spring Break for my school system begins on Friday.
6. Did you ever want to be a teacher? Why or why not?  I did not ever want to be a teacher.  I wanted to be someone who bummed around the world and wrote in her journal and was published for her amazing works.....or work at the BBC in London on some grand Shakespearean project.....I ended up being a teacher....and feel that was the road best taken. I guess the Father really does know best.   I love my job.

7.  What's your favorite floral scent? Do you have this somewhere in your home or maybe in a perfume? How do you feel about florals in food? How about wines with floral notes-yay or nay?  My favorite floral scent is lavender, hands down. I am allergic to a lot of gardenias....but I love the smell of flowers.    I have lavender all over my house in live and essential oil format.  I love florals in food....if they are edible.  I even like wines with some floral notes.
8. Insert your own random thought here.  My 45th class reunion is this summer.  Susan and I have attended a few of ours and left the hubby's at home.  We have really enjoyed meeting up with our classmates, finding out what they are doing, and hanging out with each other....oh! and reliving our lives growing visiting places that only exist in our memories.  This year I think we are going to make a trip of it and bring the guys with us.  The other side of reunions:  I went to Frank's 30th in Fort Walton, Florida.  We went to the mixer on Friday......I had a blast.....he was miserable.....and we did not go back on Saturday.  Have you ever attended a class reunion and how did you feel about it?

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Luck of the Irish - Happy St. Patrick's Day.

St. Patrick's day is the one day of the year when we all can be a little bit Irish.  It is one of those holidays that everyone loves but might not be quite sure how it all started.  Lá Fhéile Pádraig - or the Day of the Festival of St. Patrick - is a cultural or religious celebration which is on the 17th of March, which is the date notes as the traditional death date of St. Patrick (ad 385-461) , the foremost patron saint of Ireland. But the day not only celebrates the arrival of Christianity into Ireland, but celebrates Irish culture and heritage in general.  St. Patrick's Day in London emerged after the end of World War II and it was through St. Patrick's day that members of the Irish Country Associations would meet up with their fellow county ex-pats and walk behind their county banners, celebrating their Irish identity.  It's from this tradition that our Irish Day Parades today have evolved. The city of Chicago dyes the Chicago River green to celebrate the day. Savannah dies their fountains.  Green beer can be found in any good pub.  My favorite tradition is the serving of corned beef and cabbage.  I LOVE IT!....One day a year.  In 2009 I was fortunate enough to be in Dublin for St. Paddy's Day.  It was remarkable and remarkably crazy.

If you ever get a chance to visit Ireland you must go.  It will claim your heart.  I know it did mine.

Happy St. Patrick's Day !

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Hodge Podge 300 and Counting

300? Say what??? It's true! We've reached the 300th edition of the Wednesday Hodgepodge, so go us! And to celebrate we've got a brand new Hodgepodge button. You can grab the code from Joyce's sidebar by clicking here to include in your post.  Is it not beautiful.. One item of business-Joyce has declared  next week Spring Break in the Hodgepodge, so no Wednesday Hodgepodge on March 15th. Joyce and her daughter will be visiting the west coast.  I don't know about you but I am a bit jealous. The Hodgepodge will be back in action the following week, March 22nd.  Want to participate?  Answer on your own blog then hop over to Joyce's blog by clicking here  to add your link to the party. Be sure to visit a few a leave a little bloggy love.

1. What is one area of your life where you're a perfectionist? Is that a good thing?  I am a perfectionist when it comes to singing.  It is a good thing most of the time....except that I hate to mess up.  It kills me.....and then I worry about my performance.  I used to be really bad and actually throw up before performing in public.  I HAVE outgrown that.
2. What's something you find perfectly ridiculous?

3. What's a skill you've developed by way of that old fashioned saying, 'practice makes perfectAgain it has to be singing.  I took voice lessons, I sing all the time, I do scales....I practice, practice, practice
4. What's your idea of a perfect breakfast?  Oatmeal with fresh berries and toast.

5. What's a trip, holiday, vacation, or day outing you've taken that you'd rate a perfect 10? Tell us why.  They would all be perfect 10's if I was really honest.....I have several.....Pacific Northwest with Amanda and family and Kat.  PEI with Kat, Nantucket with my SMAK group, Niagra Falls when Nick walked across the falls with Susan, Amanda, Linda, and Missy, Mackinaw twice with special people, Italy with my daughter, Kat and dear friend Mary is my number one.  England, Ireland and Wales with Mary....and Hawaii for Mary's 50th birthday.  Any trip I take with Frank is always a 10.  I love to travel, especially with special people in my life.
6. What quote or saying perfectly sums up your life right now? If you can't do perfect, how about one that comes close?  Every perfect life is a parable invented by God. Simone Weil

7. How would you spend $300 today?  I would send it to my daughter and son-in-law in Moldova for Stella's Voice and to help stop human trafficking.
8.  Insert your own random thought here.  Our Spring Break is the last week in March.  When you were in school did you have Spring Break and what did you do?  I grew up in South Florida and Spring Break was crazy in Fort Lauderdale/Miami with all the colleges coming down.  Those two towns were off limits for me during Spring Break I live in Alabama and everyone here goes to the Gulf Coast....I still avoid the beach during Spring Break.  Believe was never like Where The Boys Are portrayed it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wearied and Burdened

One of my favorite verses is found in Matthew 11:28:  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

There are so many times in my life when this verse has been there for me.  I remember when my brother died, my grandparents, my parents, .....and then there was Mary.  I can remember my cell phone buzzing at 4 in the morning....I knew it would be one calls me that early.  I sat there and read the text in horror and disbelief. The first thought in my mind was NOOOOOOOOO!  How could she leave me?  How could she be gone? We had so many plans!  We were planning to drive Route 66 this summer!  She was the picture of potential. So much going for her. She had been through so many challenges and had come so far...I remember the gastro bypass gone wrong....and chuckled.  Then more shockwaves rippled through the core of my heart followed by a landslide of sorrow.  I woke Frank up in tears and he silently held me as we both felt the enormous grief permeate through us.  Mary was gone!   All who knew and loved her grieved. In our homes. On social media. In our conversations. In our prayers. In our hearts.  We grieved deep with a pain that stings fierce.
We grieved for Bill, the boys, the grandkids, for the empty seat at their dinner table, and the empty gape in their hearts and home. We grieved for her friends, BRHS, and our community. We grieved because death hurts. 

As we gathered in the community to celebrate her life many stories were shared. I struggled to breathe.  She was my soulmate.  She was my sister from another mother.  I hated cancer.  In the sacred sanctuary of God’s presence, we were reminded that God is the healer of the broken and as I looked at her family I saw brokenness. We were reminded that death is not the end for those that place their faith in Christ. We were reminded to cherish those we love and to keep our eyes wide open to the needs of those around us.   I stood on the stage to sing and could not breathe.  I hurt.  Even today, five years later the weight of it all still sits heavy on my heart. I remember pouring my heart out to the Comforter and sensing His peace in the middle of the grief. The burden remains, but the pressure of it is lightened in His presence. And I’m reminded that God’s strength comes to me as I yoke myself to Jesus and allow Him to share in the carrying of my grief. In doing so, I am locked into His power that walks with me step by step through every struggle.  I found myself wondering....when life is jagged and darkness taunts us like a bully, how can we see beyond the despair that grips us?  I did find in the depth of my pain that... when grief runs deep God’s comforting love runs deeper still.  The peace I was longing for and the rest that I was desperate for would always be found in the arms of Jesus. And those arms are constantly reaching out to us.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29).  This is the invitation Jesus gives to each of us. Will you accept his invitation?