March 4, 2013

Lenten Journey: Not God's Will

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.  Jesus said tho them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?  By no means!  But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!  Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them -- do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?  By no means!  But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did!"
- Luke 13:1-5 

For Reflection...

There is pain in this world that raises a single question to which there seems to be no satisfactory answer:  Why?  Why did Pilate kill those people at the altar of God?  Why did that tower fall on those bystanders?  Why did my mother get cancer?  Why did that boy commit suicide?  Why the tsunami?  Why do so many children starve to death in sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh?

I want to know why.  I hear these stories, and I feel desperately out of control.  I want to help or to fix.  More than anything I want some sense of assurance that this terrible thing will not, cannot, happen to me.  If I know why, if there is some reason or pattern, I can avoid this terrible fate.  If I can only blame someone or something.  If not, I know it could as well be me.

Perhaps the least satisfactory of all unsatisfactory answers is the one the people who come to Jesus seem to propose:  It was God's will.  We've all heard it.  Something tragic happens, and someone, somewhere, suggests that "everything happens for a reason."  Others go so far as to detail the reason, from "God's perspective":  The hurricane was God's judgment on Haiti, because Haitians practice voodoo.  AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuals.


I want to say this as emphatically as I can.  Jesus did too.  I expect his, "By no means!" was more raw and pointed in Aramaic.  You say this is God's will?  The senseless deaths of innocent people?  The vicious exercise of power by a petty tyrant?  No!

The particular lie of "God's will" is insidious.  Pious and kind people use it all the time.  We believe, in the standard form of the argument, that God is all powerful and all good, so we get caught up in the trap of believing that that must mean that God ordains everything that happens -- and that, despite all the evidence before us, everything that happens must be good.


Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), and he weeps at the altar and the tower of Siloam.  He weeps with me in my mother's hospital room and at the graveside of the boy who died by his own hand.  He weeps in Haiti and Africa and Bangladesh and the bedsides of people with AIDS.

This is the first and crucial thing to grasp about God's will.  God allows evil in the world.  That is undeniable. But God does not will it.

For Entering In...

Spend a few moments in silence becoming present to yourself and to God.  Take an extra few moments to ground yourself in the knowledge that you are safe and loved.  This is some hard ground we're going over today.

Reflect on these questions:
  • Remember a time when you've heard something that struck you as tragic?  What was your response? How did you feel?  What did you think?
  • Have you had a time when you wondered, Where was God?  Can you give yourself permission to question God's power or goodness?  God can handle our doubts.
  • We sometimes think of prayer as being permissible only within a narrow range:  We can offer worship or thanks or confess or ask for intercession.  Can you imagine turning to God in your doubt?  In anger?  In raw grief?
  • What are the tragedies, personal or global, that weigh on your heart?  Spend the remainder of your prayer time today bringing those to God.  Use words, if you want, or just sit with the Lord in the midst of your sorrow.
- Continue this week to fasten your word to your heart.  Turn to that word during the day or in the night, and know that you are in the presence of God.

As you finish this quiet time, return to the awareness of God's unshakable love for you.

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