4th Sunday after Pentecost, June 20, 2021, 2nd Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41 The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas
While the Book of Job remains one of the most provocative works of the Bible, because it asks the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” the God of Job remains one of the most repulsive characters you ever want to meet. Because the response of this deity to Job who, by divine intent, suffers the loss of family, property, health and welfare; when confronted by this faithful victim of countless unjust atrocities, replies by saying he has no right to question the motives of the Almighty. It’s the sort of reply for which you wish there was a trap door or ejection seat for God when the warning buzzer sounded “Wrong Answer!”
The unknown author of the story reflects a widely held notion of God as the all-powerful knower and cause of everything that occurs, even before it happens. If, therefore according to this concept, God knows everything before it happens, it has to happen, because if it doesn’t, God cannot be all-knowing. However, if it does, God knowing it will occur, has to cause it to occur. So, the sages concluded that since nothing escapes the knowledge of God, nothing, be it good or evil, can escape the will of God. Everything that happens is predestined to happen as God’s intends.
This theological assumption poses an existential dilemma. For if God knows what will happen before it happens, then free will and our ability to choose cease to exist. We are all puppets manipulated by a divine puppeteer.
Any rational, common sense concept of God, in my opinion, must accept that the future does not exist until it becomes the present. And because human beings have the freedom of choice within the context of their natural and social environment, nothing is certain until it occurs. We are the products and consequences of our environment and choices. But our environment and choices, from a faith perspective, are not just physical. They are also spiritual.
If we, therefore, assume that the God of all creation is loving, compassionate and just, and that we, with all creation, are the offspring of this divine character and image, then the natural world in which we live, filled with heartaches and joys, is not something to be harnessed and manipulated, but understood, utilized, cooperated and interacted with for the benefit of both creation and the created beings that abide within it.
The forces of nature that we perceive as life-threatening and destructive, be they wind or flood or disease or even age, are such because we regard them in the context of our mortal nature that fears death, rather than in the context of our divine nature that overcomes death. The products of a simply mortal perspective become, themselves, life-threatening and destructive, intent on robbing the environment of its natural resources, suppressing individuals of their human potential, squandering the wealth that should be more equitably distributed for the self-absorbed intent of the financially affluent few who see themselves as Job-like gods of their universe.
Several years ago, I was called by desperate parents to the hospital room of their child, born premature with life-threatening conditions, to pray for the boy, his family, and the surgical staff that would operate on the infant. To my surprise, several of the nurses and physicians who would attend to the child, gathered with me and the parents in prayer before the surgery. The child did not survive. But at the funeral, I noticed the familiar faces of the surgical team that had formed an attachment to the boy, as if to say to the family, “Your loss is ours as well.” And in my officiation of this funeral, I acknowledged the presence of God in the room and community among us, convinced that death would not have the final say.
“Peace, be still!” said Jesus to the storm that raged about him and his disciple (Mark 4:39). “Peace, be still!” says Jesus to the internal storms that rage within our mortal fears. For I am convinced that the conditions that caused the premature death of that child, along with the countless conditions and diseases that cause the premature death of anyone will, by the intent of God’s love, compassion, and justice, be ultimately overcome by God’s life-giving and eternal spirit among us.
“We are,” Paul said, “treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2nd Corinthians 6:8-10) You are the children of God. Peace, be still! Amen.