LINDFIELD UNITING CHURCH (27th September 2015)
“God On Our Side” Psalm 124
We look up at the clouds and we see the face of a butterfly. Someone receives bad news and we say, everything happens for a reason. We humans seem to have a strong desire to find purpose and design beyond the moment, beyond the facts, beyond the “what is”. This looks like faith to some people and superstition or denial to others. Whatever one’s position on this I think it one of the most compelling tenants of our faith is that truth, love and meaning are not generated by us, but necessarily come from beyond us. However, we tend to take it too far and that creates a problem.
Psalm 124 outlines the difficulty.
The author, probably David, is expressing a kind of gratitude for a narrow escape or a divine explanation for avoiding complete disaster saying, think how bad it would have been if we had not had God on our side? They would have swallowed us up, swept us aside, eaten us alive; but because God is on our side we live another day.
I find a darker and deeper question implied by this Psalm. It really undergirds our understanding of faith and of God. If God were really on our side, why did the enemy even threaten us to begin with? Or if they didn’t know it the first time why would they attack again? A narrow escape? Why was there a need to escape at all? If God is on our side why doesn’t God rebuff any trouble before it even starts?
Everything happens for a reason we reply. Why wasn’t God on the side of the German Jews and Christians in WWII? Is God only on the side of the winners? I don’t see how that can be so.
When I was a rugby coach in a Church Boarding School I was in an unenviable position. When my team won it was because God was “on my side” but when we lost it was always my fault! I received none of the credit but all of the blame. Good for God not so good for me.
This is really masking the hardest question of all. Why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t like to blame God when something bad happens because that seems to be a sign of unfaithful so we consign it to being “a reason for it”. If we’re really honest with ourselves this is a bit of a cop out. Hitler was evil. We won, therefore God was on our side. I’m not sure those 7,000,000 Jews and Christians including men like Detriech Bonhoeffer would agree. As I said earlier it comes down to our understanding of God and faith.
If we can claim God our actions are justified. When my football team lost, was God on the side of the Anglicans or Catholics that day? Was God a Presbyterian when we won? It’s such a silly question because we believe God doesn’t care too much wins a game of rugby. It may be just my team played better that day and the other team played better on another day. We can easily see that. What do we say when someone gets killed by a drunk driver or gets
cancer? Some would say God was punishing that person. That was the prevailing view in Jesus day. Jesus worked hard to dispel that view. We musn’t believe that for a moment. I had a sister who was physically handicapped and I know my Mother blamed herself. It must have been something she did during the pregnancy? But it wasn’t. She had a child before and 2 after and they were physically fine. It was just something that happened in the development of the foetus. If you remove God from the picture what would you say? The accident was a very sad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the cancer sufferer may have had a genetic predisposition, there may have been environmental factors or that cancer just strikes at random or maybe a combination of all three. In both cases we would be right. Believing in God doesn’t make a difference – at least not at this point.
It is theologically quite wrong for the Insurance industry to call things like floods, hurricanes, earthquakes etc “acts of God”. They are due to the instability of the plates in the earth’s crust or the convergence of specific weather conditions. The question is, “Why do we need to blame something or someone at all? It seems to give us a measure of comfort knowing it’s not our fault and if there’s no-one else to blame we try God.
God is not to blame for the drunk driver or the cancer diagnosis. Sometimes nobody or nothing is. Sometime things just happen. The drunk driver is responsible. The Dictator who wants to expand his empire or believes one race of people is the cause of the world’s problems should accept the blame. We understand that to a point. Then we say then why doesn’t God intervene and stop these things happening? Do we really want God to be interfering in everyday life every day? Eventually God will do things we don’t want Him to do and we’ll blame him for that too. Having free will always means people will make bad decisions but if we want to be free to make the good decisions we have to take the chance of the opposite occurring.
Now enters right faith. If all this is so what’s the point in believing at all? The writer of Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for. The conviction of things not seen (11:1). There are lots of things I don’t understand. For example, why did I get sick last Monday so I couldn’t attend the Peace Day Service when I was so looking forward to doing so? I don’t know but I did. Was it that God didn’t want me to attend? Highly unlikely. What I believe, where my faith enters is that I believe God has the power and the desire to love us so much that He always wants what’s best for us. He was even willing to watch His son die on a cross. In the cancer, after the accident or weather event, God can so move that good can come from the depths of the bad and evil. God can use the dark and evil acts of humankind to bring light and love to light. That’s faith, To look for those things all the time – on the sick bed, in the flooded house, after the crop fails. Why do I believe like this? The political and religious leaders in Jesus day thought they were getting rid of a nuisance radical preacher/prophet/healer who was stirring the people and challenging the status quo. Execute him and get him out of the way. In so doing, God used their illegal, sinister actions to bring about His plan for the salvation of the world. If God can use the darkest actions of peoples’ hearts for the greatest of all good we can be confident that God can use what happens in our lives to bring about love and light for us.
The psalm that asks inspires us to ask these deep questions also ends by giving us hope and leads us in the right direction. It ends by saying, Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (verse 8).
Whatever the future holds for you, for me, for Lindfield Uniting Church, for the world is quite unknown but we don’t need to fret. Our help is in the name of the Maker of heaven and earth. If God can do that, God can handle what may happen to us, our church or even our world. We can believe that. AMEN.