Why, God? I just don’t get it!

Communion Thoughts for 7/22/12

As I was preparing for these communion thoughts, I couldn’t help but reflect back over the events of this week and wonder how we humans got to be so broken.

First, on Wednesday night we discovered that Pastor’s office had been broken into. Several pieces of computer equipment were taken, but it appears the focus of the thief was on stealing his personal things, including a Christian flag that was handmade by his first wife and lay over her casket at her funeral. This was a personal crime – and I simply don’t understand why anyone would ever do such a thing.

Second, an event that’s been making headlines this week occurred in Aurora, CO after midnight Thursday night. Shortly after the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises began, a gunman dressed in black announced that he was “the Joker”, threw a canister of teargas into the theater audience, and then opened fire at the crowd, seeming to select his victims at random. 12 were killed and 58 were injured, including several toddlers and children. This horrific, random crime makes no sense. Clearly he was not in his right mind – but I still just don’t understand how anyone could do such a thing.

Of course, these are not the only incomprehensible things going on in the world. Suicide bombers in Syria and Palestine, bomb plots against the Pentagon, school shootings, never-ending wars, and even some places where governments can no longer protect their citizens from the horrors of organized crime. Turn on your TV or read the news – it’s everywhere. But that doesn’t make me understand it any better.

Why do people do these awful things to each other? I just don’t understand!

There are no easy answers. The simple answer to why people do awful things is “sin”, but that only makes my logical brain happy, leaving my heart uneasy. Even the psalmist, even JESUS, asked “why”. WHY, God? Why do people do these things? Why is there such evil in the world?

And that is a question to which we may never know the answer. Certainly we can say “sin”, or “the Devil”… but these answers do not necessarily quench our thirst for understanding, nor do they ease our uneasy hearts. We just want to understand.

In fact, we humans LOVE understanding and “figuring things out” – perhaps explaining the success of mysteries and thrillers – we just LOVE uncovering all the details and the clues that lead to the perpetrator’s arrest and JUSTICE! Open And Shut Case – the bad guy gets what he deserves – end of story.

But real life isn’t like Law & Order. Often times there is no law or order – only chaos and confusion. Real life is messy. Sometimes we are confused, and sometimes we find no answers. We just don’t know.

But God does.

God knows. Our God, who created the heavens and the earth, who knew us before we were born, who’s so big he holds the world in his hand and so small he can live in my heart – my God knows. And we can trust that he’s on our side. The bible tells us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) Apparently a lot of people… but the point is that God wins. I still might not understand how – looking at all the mess here on this earth – but it doesn’t matter, because if God indeed has the victory, then there’s no way my finite understanding could ever affect that.

So when something incomprehensible happens, whether it be in your life or in the news, remember that it’s okay to not understand. It’s okay to be confused, because our job is not to have all the answers. That’s God’s job. Our job is to love God and love our neighbor as best we can – even when nothing else makes sense, and even when we don’t understand our world or God’s actions.

As you come to God today, and this week, and always, don’t be afraid – God is here, for you. Ask him your questions. Bring him your confusion and your pain. Struggle. He can take it. And he will always meet you where you are, because he is on your side.

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Faithful Followers — Sometimes.

I’m reading through the Old Testament at the moment, and I have a confession: from time to time, I skim a bit. Especially the parts about “who begat who” and where they say who got what bits of land. But last week, as I found myself in the book of Joshua, a part jumped out at me.

On this particular day, I read about the end of Joshua’s term as leader of Israel. Joshua was getting old, and he knew that his time had come. Before he died, he spoke with the Israelites to make sure they would continue to follow God. “Of course, of course,” they all said, “we will TOTALLY follow God!”  “Are you sure?” he asked. And this is what it says, right in the Bible:

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God. ”

19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.

27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

Joshua knew that sometimes the people of Israel could be a little… how do I put this?… unfaithful. So he actually asks them three different times if they’re SURE they want to serve the Lord. He even warns them of the consequences – “You know this God will not tolerate your philandering with other gods…” – but they INSIST – “We will SO follow the rules! We’ll do everything God says. Pinky promise!”

Well, surprise surprise, guess what happened next? Joshua died, many of his contemporaries also died, and people started to forget the promise that Israel had made. So yet again – despite their fervent promises to the contrary – the fickle Israelites broke their promise. As I continued to read about how the Israelites backslid right into their former behaviors, I found myself smirking at them a bit. Those silly Israelites! They just can’t stay away from those idols!

This past week, now that school’s out for the summer, Daniel and I have been reevaluating some lifestyle things, like time management, food, and exercise. As I was cooking a fun new recipe, I was all excited about this healthy new commitment that would get us back on track –

–and all of a sudden I had a Joshua moment. Didn’t I have another “I’m gonna eat healthy” moment in college? Where’d that go? Didn’t I promise Daniel at Christmas that I was gonna be better at getting up off the couch and exercising? And how many times do I have to think about calling my grandpa before I actually DO it?

You see, as much as we deny it, as much as we protest, we are just as fickle and unfaithful as the Israelites. To quote 1 John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That’s a nice way of saying that even though we PROMISE we’ll change – REALLY, we mean it this time! – we always go back to our old ways.

I’ll never forget my dad gleefully telling me one of his favorite “unusual” Proverbs over dinner one night: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”

So, even though our old, idolatrous ways are like vomit, we still go back to them.

Can you imagine having the flu, vomiting in a bucket, and then having to have someone make you promise them not to go back and eat it? …And THEN you sneak back when they’re not looking and eat it anyway? That’s disgusting! …And yet, that is what Israel did, and that is what we do. We get a big ol’ spoon and we scarf down the vomit of our bad habits and unkind thoughts even though we KNOW they’re bad for us.

So what do we do about it?

First things first, let’s call a spade a spade and fess up – we are fools who return to our smelly, nasty, selfish behaviors just as mindlessly as a dog returning to its mess. Our selfishness isn’t cute, or ok, or justified because that other person made me mad – it STINKS. Let’s not cover it with false perfume.

Secondly, even though we KNOW we’re gonna return to that bucket eventually, let’s try to run toward the heavenly feast as long as we can first. We are human, yes, and we will mess up because we are fools. But always remember that God calls us not to be successful, but to be FAITHFUL. God is the ultimate example of faithfulness – giving Israel and us chance after chance after chance to do the right thing, just because of His great love for them and for us. Although we cannot meet his example, we need to keep picking ourselves up, moving on from our follies, and giving ourselves another chance to faithfully serve the Lord as best we can.