Why does God let this happen?
Here is an experience many of us have had.
Our child is engaged to be married.
The happy couple wants to have the “perfect” wedding.
And these days, they usually have a couple of years to plan it.
The list of things to plan is long.
Where will the wedding be?
Who will officiate?
Who will be invited?
Where will the reception be?
What food will we serve?
Who will provide the music?
What will be the on play list?
Who will video?
Who will photograph?
What will everyone be wearing?
What about the flowers?
Meticulous planning begins.
Each of the betrothed has a vision, a mental picture, of the perfect wedding.
But here is the problem.
Those visions often clash.
Each one asks, “Why can’t it be the way I want it to be? That would be perfect!”
But what is perfect for one is not perfect for the other.
So, a compromise is made.
Neither thinks the wedding is perfect, but both accept it is as good as it can be.
This is kind of the way we all deal with God.
Our relationship with God is like a wedding.
We plan for it to be a particular way.
We all have a belief, a vision perhaps, of what would make it perfect.
Until God says, “No, it cannot be that way.”
“Why can’t the world be the way I want it to be? That would be perfect!”
But it cannot be that way.
So, we need to compromise and accept it as it is.
That it is good enough.
Can we do that?
How are we to live in a world that is just “good enough” from our perspective?
A world where bad stuff happens?
That brings us to our scripture reading.
Luke 4: 16-30
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Let’s set the stage.
Jesus has been baptized and tempted in the wilderness.
Now he is ready to get his ministry started.
He heads back to Nazareth and shows up at the synagogue as was his custom.
He is the reader for the day and reads a passage from Isaiah describing the anointed one.
God with us.
Jesus says, “That’s me!”
Folks get pretty excited because they have heard about Jesus’ activities up in Capernaum.
While Luke does not describe these things, Mark does.
Jesus has cleansed a leper, healed a paralytic, calmed a storm, exorcized a demon, raised a dead girl, and cured a bleeding woman.
Here is the one who takes away all the bad stuff in the world.
Now the folks in Nazareth want some of that.
And Jesus tells them, sorry, that’s not the way it works.
“Eliza did not feed all the starving widows.
Elisha did not cleanse all the lepers.
And neither will I.
I did not come to make the world perfect.
I came to be you in the imperfect world.
I came to tell you that there is a perfect world, but that is not here.
While you are here, I want to teach you how live in this imperfect world.
That will have to be good enough.
But like them, I offer hope and the comfort that comes from God’s presence with you here.”
Apparently, that was good not enough for some folks, because they try to throw Jesus off a cliff.
They wanted the Messiah to take away all that bad stuff.
Why would God let that stuff happen?
Isn’t that the way we feel in this pandemic?
Why is God letting this happen?
And the answer is particularly unsatisfying.
It is a mystery.
God’s ways are beyond our best understanding and are not always the way we would like them to be.
Which brings me to Gottfried Leibniz.
He was a German philosopher, known for his optimism.
He considered the question of theodicy – why the world was not perfect.
Leibniz envisioned God as thinking through all the worlds God could create and chose to create the one we inhabit – the best one.
Leibniz’s argued that the world, having been created by God, must be the best of all possible worlds.
Leibniz then says it is pointless to complain about the imperfections of the world.
No world without suffering and injustice is possible.
So, we should take comfort that the world is as good as it can possibly be.
Leibniz is not alone in this.
Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher wrote this in their book “Shaping the Prayers of the People”.
“The fact [is] that creation is deeply good, despite the fall, and the truth [is] that mundane, ordinary existence is profoundly valuable and suffused with God’s glory …”
So, the world is not only good as it is, but is valuable and filled with God’s glory, despite its faults.
Maybe so, but wouldn’t it be better today if there were no COVID-19?
But I have to tell you, as a person with a degree in biology, I do see it as rather extraordinary.
I do see a design in it.
Creation is doing what creation does.
Did God create COVID-19?
Only God knows.
And we have to accept it as part of God’s creation of the best possible world.
A world that we have to accept as good enough.
So, we need to learn how to adapt to it and live in it.
That is what Jesus tells the folks in Nazareth.
I am here to walk you through it.
So, this I think we know.
Even though creation is not as we might have planned it, we can appreciate it because God is with us.
And that should be good enough.
Catastrophes will happen and people’s lives will be destroyed.
Not because anyone deserved it, but because creation does what creation does.
Lives are destroyed in natural disasters.
Others from disease.
Others by accident.
Others at the hands of other humans.
It seems kind of random.
Yet the fact remains that God created everything and said it was good, it is the best of all possible worlds and is valuable and filled with God’s glory.
Sometimes God will intervene with a miracle, but only when it serves God’s purpose.
That does not happen often.
Jesus came to tell us how we can best live in such a world.
He teaches us that we don’t just sit back and watch it all happen.
We do what we can to help each other manage it.
A couple of years ago, Wayne Fast, Nancy Page, Emilee Little and I went to Andrews, South Carolina to rebuild homes damaged in the floods from a 22-inch-in-one-day rainfall.
These were people whose lives had been catastrophically disrupted.
I expected to hear that question:
Why us, God?
But we didn’t.
What we heard was this:
We needed a miracle.
And God sent you.
Lives were being rebuilt by many who came with tools, money or just themselves.
We were the miracles.
We helped people manage their lives impacted by the world around them.
These damaged lives become opportunities for people to love each other by lending a hand in times of need.
Jesus taught us that this was the way we are to live in a world that is just good enough.
The Jesus way.
If we are to do what Jesus taught us to do, we must be compassionate to those in need, from any misfortune, whether catastrophic or individual.
When we do this, God’s love erupts out of nowhere.
The kingdom, that perfect place. becomes is very close.
But we can be paralyzed by the thought that we cannot “save” everyone.
Because there was another thing we saw in South Carolina.
People who were not getting a rebuilt life.
People we could not help.
We were overwhelmed.
So many people.
So much need.
Kind of like what we see today with COVID-19.
But we should remember that even Jesus did not give everyone a miracle.
He does not expect that from us either!
Jesus did acts of individual charity, not global reconstruction.
We are called to do the same.
When we help just one person in need we are living the Jesus way.
We are bringing the kingdom just a bit closer.
That is what we need to do in our current COVID-19 world.
So many folks are suffering.
What can we do to make their world a bit better?
One thing we can do is feed them.
We are doing that through our Serving from the Stoop food collections.
And we are doing whatever is required to contain the virus so that people can go back to work safely.
And lastly, we need to be patient. The world might not be the way we want it to be, but we have hope – because God is with us.