Monday, November 11, 2013

Looking Forward to November 17, 2013

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Romans 8:28-31
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
The Sermon title is:Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Early Thoughts:  There are certain phrases that probably should be stricken from our repetoire.  And the irony is that many people use them in a desire/attempt to be comforting.

"God must have needed another angel"
"God never closes a door without opening a window"
"God never gives us more than we can handle"
"Time heals all wounds"
"It must be God's will"
 "Everything happens for a reason"

To be frank most people find these statements, when offered in the face of tragedy, generally unhelpful and sometimes downright infuriating. 

One of the most perplexing questions in Christian theology is "Why do bad things happen?" [often with the add-on "to good people" and the corresponding "why do good things happen to bad people?"]

If God is in control then why do young children die of illness or accident or willful action?  Why do people get cancer?  Why does a person have to watch his/her life partner descend into dementia?  Why do we see (over and over again) reports of "ethnic cleansing" and genocide?  If God is in control, if God is all-loving and all-knowing and all-powerful why do terrible things happen?  Is it all part of a grand plan?  Does everything happen for a reason?

To make it a more difficult discussion, it is fairly clear that much of the Scripture witness supports the idea that God is in control, that there is a plan, that things do happen for a reason.  And the only appropriate response in the minds of some people of faith is to say "it is all a mystery".

But what if God is not in control?  What if God is not in fact all-powerful? Then what?

That is where I have come to.  I don't think everything happens for some deep philosophical reason.  I think life is just like that.  This I think is what the writer of Ecclesiastes is referring to.   (As it happens, my Hebrew Scripture professor once suggested that this passage is a little bit depressing and fatalistic.) 

SO then what do we make of Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."?

That verse could easily support the idea that everything happens for a reason, that there is a plan, that "it will all turn out for the best".  OR.  Or it could mean that the same God who turned the tragedy of the cross into the victory of Easter is willing to transform things.  Not to take away the pain, or the tragedy, or the rampant unfairness of life.  Just to, as the saying goes, make the best of a bad situation.  So things don't happen according to the plan, they happen and we adjust the plan in light of new information...

It isn't as neat as saying that  there is a reason, that this is part of a big plan but to me it is more honest.  It pushes us to wrestle with hard questions and in the end it is only in the wrestling that we find whatever hints of meaning, or learning from the events of our lives...

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