“My God, My God why have you forsaken me and seem so far from my cry” These are familiar words to all of us. They are the words of Passion Week, they are the words of Jesus from the cross, they are the words of the psalmist. This morning they now are the words of ten more mothers and ten more fathers, brothers and sisters and countless young people who lost loved ones in the fatal shooting 100 miles outside of Portland Oregon. Ten more people are dead, life snuffed out by what we will find out to be a deranged individual who had access to guns.
Where was God when this moment of darkness and blood shed overtook that college campus? Where was God countless other times this year when similar incidents occurred? If these occasions are not enough to wonder if God has abandoned creation, here in the Northeast we grieve two more small innocent children who have died at the hands of their caretakers.
Where is God when darkness comes to cover the land? It is the question of the ages. In years gone by scores of books have been written to answer, “why bad things happen to good people?” Every time children like Baby Bella die and multiple people are killed while at school, or at church, or even in a movie theater, we stop and ponder the question again.
So often when bad things happen to good people, it is easy for us to find ways to rationalize the occurrence by finding creative ways to blame the victim. Trayvon Martin should not have confronted George Zimmerman, or Michael Brown should have obeyed the orders of the police. Both should have known better than to challenge authority. But in these most recent situations there is no blaming the victim, they were doing nothing wrong, they were in a place which should have been safe from harms way. And so again we have to ask. “ Where was God? Why did God allow such terrible things to happen?”
I am not sure there is a good answer to these questions, at least none that I know of which will assuage the pain and the anger that so many families are now feeling. All I can offer is the timeless story of the wisdom writer called Job.
This book of the Bible is perhaps one of the best glimpses we have into how our ancient forebears tried to explain human suffering.
Job, the writer tells us, was a righteous man, loyal in every way to God. He was also a wealthy and successful man in every way possible. He had sired a large and loving family, his herds were large and plentiful, and he had the gift of good health well beyond the average life expectancy. All of this changed when God and Satan got into a debate as to whether any human being could remain righteous when faced with loss and physical suffering. In God’s hope to prove Satan wrong, God offers up Job as an example of righteousness. When Satan argues Job is only righteous because of all he has, God gives Satan permission to do as he wishes with Job, except kill him.
Right here, during this opening scene, we struggle with God’s decision. How can God sit back and let Satan toy with Job? I don’t think there is an answer if we understand Satan as the cartoonish figure dressed in red tights and a cape. However, as we allow the story to move from the literal to the metaphorical, then perhaps, we there is an answer.
If Satan is the culmination of evil on Earth, the answer becomes contained in the earliest part of our tradition. . .in the story of Genesis itself?
In the beginning, we are told, after God created the heavens and the earth, God created humanity, Adam and Eve. The story goes on to tell us that God placed the first man and first woman in a garden where all their needs would be met and they would never know suffering of any kind. This was contingent on them not eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were free to eat and to live off anything else they could find, and they were given, as the pinnacle of creation, the gift of reason and free will. According to the story, humanity was not created to be mere puppets of God, but as creatures given the gift of reason and the ability to freely choose obedience to God.
We all know how the story ends with the ultimate act of disobedience, as both Adam and Eve choose to eat the apple. But where was God to stop them? Like with Satan, God gives them the power to choose, to choose a life of innocence in the Garden, or a life of hardship as they must now learn to choose between good and evil.
With Genesis behind us, we are forced to ask, “is it Satan who God allows to bring hardship upon Job, or is it humanity itself?” Humanity, the pinnacle of creation, the living breathing beings who have been blessed with reason and cursed with the ability to choose between good and evil.
If Satan is us, then we have a very bitter pill to swallow. When asked why bad things happen to good people. On one level we now have to answer because of our own misdoings. Now we have to accept personal responsibility for some of our own suffering.
Harder still, however, we have to accept the choices we make, can and do adversely affect others. In the confession found in the Prayerbook supplement, Enriching our Worship, participants ask forgiveness for things done and left undone, for the sins we have committed and for the sins which have been committed on our behalf.
Sins committed on our behalf are often the sins we fail to see for they are the sins of our society. The corporate sins which tacitly allow racism to continue or undermine any opportunity for an open and honest conversation concerning gun violence in America. It is the sin of corporate greed that allow us to buy a preponderance of inexpensive goods while children of factory workers go hungry half a world away.
Each and every day, God presents us with the same question Yahweh confronted the Children of Israel with when the Law was brought down from Mount Sinai, “ On this day I give you blessing and curse, life and death, choose life.” (Deut. 19)
Each day, each and every moment of our lives we choose between life and death, blessing and curse for ourselves and others by the decisions we make. Sometimes we choose life, but more often we choose death. Thankfully through the salvation of the cross and the grace of God there is forgiveness and the opportunity to choose life again.
On Thursday morning, God asked a young man to choose life. Sadly, he chose death for himself and nine others instead. And once again we ask where was God? God was there, calling out to him, asking him to change his mind, all the while honoring the freedom we were given at the beginning of time.
Let us Pray
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen