A Dangerous World and the Good God who Made It.


Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 29

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day: Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

There will probably be more heresy preached this coming Sunday than in all the church year as preachers throughout the world teeter between proclaiming a god that is a committee of three and a god that is one, but has three suits in the closet. This comes about, in my opinion, as a result of well meaning but misguided efforts to “dumb down” the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather than repeat my rant of a few years ago addressing that issue, I will simply reference it here. I prefer to focus on our Psalm for this Sunday-the topic of which is God’s voice.

This Psalm is disturbing. The “voice” of God is portrayed largely as a destructive force, breaking cedars, stampeding terrified animals and belching forth storms of lightning and thunder. This is not the kindly deity who manages the universe in such a way as to make everything come out right for every individual. God did not make the world a safe playground with padded play equipment, no sharp corners and plenty of foam flooring on which to land. You can get hurt out here.

The hazard of living in God’s good but wild and unpredictable world was brought home to me last week when Sesle, my wife of thirty-eight years took a fall while engaging in competitive sport at a local gym. This accident left her with near total paralysis. She is currently in rehab working to regain movement and strength. The doctors tell us her prognosis is good, but that there are no guarantees. What strikes me is the complete randomness of it all. How remarkable-and terrifying-it is that one’s life and the lives of all who love them can be so thoroughly disrupted and transformed in a matter of seconds. God’s voice shatters the cedars, but the psalm says nothing about the people upon whom the splinters might have fallen. Perhaps that is to remind us that our little lives are far more frail, vulnerable and subject to erasure than we imagine. That is a hard word to hear.

So, was God responsible for Sesle’s injury? I don’t believe God caused, willed or allowed this to happen; not as punishment for sin or to impart some lesson or to accomplish some greater good. There is nothing good about human suffering. Nothing. It just plain sucks. God is not the author of pain. Nevertheless, there is one sense in which you could say that God is responsible. As I said before, God did not create a safe world. God created a world that is beautiful, mysterious and filled with possibilities. This is a world where you can find love, accomplish great things and acquire wisdom. It is a place where you can work hard and play even harder. But it is also a world that can break your heart, hand you some stinging disappointments and crush your dreams. It is a world that offers unlimited joys and unimaginable sorrows. Is it possible to have one without the other? Is the risk of freak accidents causing crushing injuries and events like the Holocaust worth creating a universe with such randomness in it? I have wondered about that a lot over the last week.

In any event, God has determined that the risk of making such a world was worth taking and that this world, in which so much has gone so terribly wrong, is worth saving. So determined is God to see through the work begun in the opening chapter of Genesis that God sends God’s only beloved Son to be born into, grow up in and die upon this beautiful, wonderful and dangerous world-knowing full well the probable outcome. Moreover, God will not accept rejection. Rather than retaliating against the world that murdered the Son, rather than giving up on a world bound and determined to reject God’s love, God raises the rejected Son from death and offers him back to the world again. God continues to offer him and always will, because in God’s view, we are worth it.

So while I acknowledge that God is in this sense responsible for Sesle’s injuries, God is not indifferent to them. I believe that the God who knows when each sparrow falls, is grieved over the suffering of this, his child. I also believe that, just as God is in the storms that shatter cedars, God is present in the cellular reactions that heal wounded nerves and muscles, in the caring hands of doctors, nurses and therapists, in the prayers of the faith community and in the healing outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised in baptism. So I am riding this emotional roller coaster clinging to that promise, the promise that God sent, continues to send and always will send the Beloved Son.

Here is a hymn/poem from the Lutheran Hymnal, the book of hymns and liturgy for the church in which I was raised. It is sung to the tune of Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia. Sadly, it did not make the cut for subsequent Lutheran hymnals. I still find it of enormous comfort at times like the one I am going through now.

Be Still My Soul

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Source: The Lutheran Hymnal, (c. 1941 by Concordia Publishing House) #651. This poem is in the public domain. Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel was born in Germany in 1697. Little is known about this remarkale woman. Her name suggests that she came from an aristocratic family. She was associated with a Lutheran religious house in the town of Köthen, though her name does not appear in the house records. There are in existence several letters written by her between 1750-52 to Heinrich Ernst, Count Stolberg. There is some suggestion in the correspondence that, rather than being in a religious house, von Schlegel was a member of the court of the duke of Anhalt-Köthen where Johann Sebastian Bach was musical director from 1717 until 1723. She also corresponded with August Hermann Francke, a prominent Lutheran clergyman, philanthropist and Biblical scholar. The date and place of her death are unknown. Von Schlegel wrote a number of hymns in the spirit of early Pietism. Among English speakers, her best known hymn is the above printed “Stille mein Wille, dein Jesus hilft siegen” written in 1752. This 1855 translation is by Jane Borthwick.

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