Bill was in his late 20's, a single, handsome fellow a little over six feet in height with wavy black hair and green eyes. He worked in health care as an x-ray technician and was very good at his profession. Bill's life was hard growing up and he had little use for his parents and their standards. He also had little use for God and thought Christians were hypocrites. During lunch breaks Bill enjoyed taunting anyone who professed faith in Jesus Christ. They would launch quotes from the Bible at him and he would rebuff them. "How can you say that God is love when he lets little children suffer from incurable diseases or abusive parents. Isn't a loving Father supposed to protect his children? You say that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that he established a kingdom of peace and love and that he made all the world new. Some kingdom!"
On and on Bill would challenge whatever was said to him. Eventually, God, Jesus, and the Bible were no longer mentioned in his presence.
Perhaps some of his bitterness came from his upbringing. Perhaps in the past, he had prayed to God for help and believed his prayers went unanswered. Whatever it was, it caused his heart to turn to stone, and he began to rely only on himself. The questions kept turning over and over in his mind, "How can God who is supposed to be all good and have all power let terrible things happen to people?" "Where is the logic in trusting in a God who does not take care of those who believe in that same God?"
That was the very question that Job pondered. He had done nothing to incur the wrath of God, so why had all these bad things happened to him? Job was not aware of any great sin in his life; in fact, Job was a man of faith. He trusted in God and worshipped God dutifully. Yet, for all of his trust and faith, his life was a mess. Job lost his family and his fortune, and eventually became wretchedly ill. Why? How could God let such things happen to those who trust in God? Job believed that God was all powerful and that, as a loving parent, would protect God's children from harm; but Job felt abandoned. Where was God? God did not answer Job's question; but instead, admonished Job for even questioning the wisdom and decisions of the almighty creative God.
Yet, Bill's question and Job's plight have plagued God trusting people throughout the centuries. Why does evil happen to those who try to live their lives in faith? Perhaps all of this was supposed to happen in the old order, but through Jesus Christ the new reign of God has been established. Through the prophets God had promised that a messiah would come who would make all things new. Isaiah prophesied that evil would be destroyed and right would triumph and the goodness of God would reign through that same messiah.
We believe that the messiah did come in the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has been established. Yet, evil still does happen and the nonbeliever still scoffs at men and women of faith, and in their hearts men and women of faith still question. It is not enough to state that it is only in that larger eternal life, that such will be true. What about this life?
The beginning of the answer lies in what St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new! All this from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us." (2 Cor. 5:17-19) Could it be that our ministry as disciples of Jesus Christ is the reconciliation of what lies at the heart of evil to what lies at the heart of the kingdom? Could it be that the new creation is something that begins on the inside of each of us and it is our job in cooperation with grace from God to make that new creation manifest?
Even those closest to Jesus struggled with the same doubts that Job and Bill experienced. Jesus was in the boat with them, in the immediate presence of the disciples, and yet, when the storm raged they doubted the power of God working through Jesus. In fact, they chided Jesus, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38) How different are we from those first disciples? Was Jesus any closer to them in that boat, than he is to us through baptism? When we face crises or tragedy in our lives do we doubt the power of God working through Jesus? Do we chide Jesus for not caring about our pain? Jesus rebuked storm and it became calm. The creative power of God then and today continues to work through Jesus Christ. Then Jesus questioned the disciples' faith, "Have you still no faith?" Perhaps the problem was not a lack of faith, but rather, what kind of faith the disciples had. Did the power of their faith lie more in their expectations that it did in the nearer presence of Jesus?
We shall have to wait for that larger life for the kingdom to come into its perfection. Until then tragedy and crises will still arise. Storms still rage for Christians, as they raged again for the early disciples. When Jesus rebuked the wind, he did not promise those disciples no further storms, but rather, that he would always be with them through the storms. That is what Jesus promises us. He does not promise that if we believe in him, no evil will befall us, no crises, no tragedy will occur in our lives. He does promise that he will always be with us. If the power of God working through Jesus Christ can rebuke the wind and calm the storm, it can also take care of us!
You see, Bill was wrong. God does care. God does love. God does soothe and nurture us. In the midst of the most terrible evil, God is present through Jesus Christ to hold us, to comfort us, to strengthen us. And when the evil has passed, our ministry continues to reconcile the world to Jesus Christ. Amen.