Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 7th: Exodus 5:10-23; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; and Acts 7:30-34. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I have been a pastor for 34 years in two rather different church denominations, and during this ministry I have seen people struggle and even walk away from their faith because we proclaim “almighty God” without context. If God is almighty, people have a right to ask, then why do I or a person I care about have to suffer? Does this mean that God does not care? After all, does not the Psalmist profess:
“Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”
But the facts dispute this assertion. Good people of faith do suffer. It is plain to see and it is one of the easiest arguments to throw against maintaining belief in God. People of faith and especially churches need to be cautious in proclaiming “almighty God” out of context for it can ruin a person’s faith.
This is not the time or place to enter into a full discussion about the blessing of freedom, that our choices are real and carry consequence, that our freedom is essential to our being made in the image and likeness of God, that freedom is the basis of morality and rationality, and that freedom requires a reality in which God does not control everything that happens, not because He is not “almighty,” but because God respects our ability to choose, to think and to believe.
This means God must leave room for us to act in a world that makes our actions meaningful so that we can examine, discover and create. Such a world is governed by amoral (not immoral) laws. When a tornado strikes in Alabama, for example, and kills one person and spares another, this is not a matter of deserving life or death, and it also not a matter of God not caring.
This is, however, a time and place to remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the story that stands behind Lent’s 40 days. In the allegory of the devil’s temptations, he quotes the above Psalm. Jesus’ response is not deeply theological or philosophical. It speaks, instead, of relationship, of trust. This is His context to speak of “almighty God.”
Jesus answers the temptation with the modest notion that we should not put God to the test. In other words, we need to foster a relationship that trusts God. Jesus knows that there is dissonance between reality and the Psalmist’s idealism. It cannot be brushed aside or answered with logical gymnastics for these fool no one, but Jesus trusts God and finds reassurance in this.
Jesus’ trust will take an entire Gospel to explain, an entire life-story of faith to flesh out, but at the end of His life when Jesus faces the extremes of suffering, the context of relationship is more powerful.
There are hard questions to the faith, questions that may defy adequate answer, but the relationship of faith can rise above all of this. And this is a worthy objective of Lenten exploration as we proceed on toward our suffering Saviour.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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