Monday, March 20, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Why Don’t I Understand What’s Going On?

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second sermon in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions." You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website ( for more church information.

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Well, here we are, asking the third question in our series dealing with what I consider life’s most difficult questions. And to sort of bring us up to date, let’s review some the questions we’ve already discussed. I mean, as y’all remember, during the first week, we looked at the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? And we sort of came to the conclusion that, even though sometimes good people either bring suffering on themselves or others dump it on them, a lot of bad stuff just happens and we never really know why. Still, if we recognize that our past has been cleansed and that our future is secure and that God is with us all the time, you see, if we recognize that all this is true, it may help us keep going when bad things happen. Now that was the first week and the first question. And then last week, we considered a question that I think most of us have asked ourselves from time-to-time: Why don’t people understand me? And as we talked about it, we looked at how we’re surrounded by four kinds of people. There are some who won’t take the time to understand what we’re going through, but even if they did, they still couldn’t understand, while there are others who have the ability to understand but who have also made the decision not to. And there are others want to understand, but just can’t. But praise the Lord, there are folks out there and in here who sincerely want to understand what we’re facing and are able to do it, because they faced it too. And as we talked about last week, those are the folks we need to find ourselves but also become for others. And so we’ve looked at question number one, why do bad things happen to good people, and question number two, why don’t people understand me?

And if the first one was more, you know, philosophical and the second one was more focused on the outside, the third question is really directed toward the inside. In other words, it deals with what may be going on inside each of us as we deal with some of the stuff that’s happening.Now I guess we could ask this question when you’re feeling fat and sassy, you know, like when you’ve just won a scratch-off or you watch that kid about whom you always worried graduate from college or you find out that West Virginia has actually made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Now we might not be able to understand why this is happening, but remember, this stuff is good and so we may not care. Instead, I think we usually wonder about this sort of thing when we fail a test for which we studied or we can’t get a second date with a girl we worked so hard to impress or we bet with that idiot who actually though Donald Trump had a chance in the last election and now he wants us to pay-up. Talking for myself, when something like that happens, I can imagine me holding my head and asking that simple yet profound question: Why don’t I understand what’s going on?

And I’ll tell you, if something like that should happen and we end up mouthing those words, I think we’d be in excellent company, because that’s exactly the kind of question Job asked. Now as y’all know, we’ve been sort of using Job as a guide as we considered the first two of life’s more difficult questions, because remember, he was a incredibly good and righteous guy who not only lost everything but was covered by these weeping boils, but not because he was evil or irresponsible or even unbelievably unlucky. This good man suffered because Satan tripe dog dared God and God let it happen. And then, when his friends came to help Job, all they could say was that Job must have done something evil or irresponsible because everybody knows God would never in million years allow a good person to suffer; therefore, Job couldn’t be as good as he though he was. Of course, both Job and the reader, meaning us, man, we know that’s not a bunch of alternative facts. Job was as good as advertised, yet he was suffering. And to our hero Job, that didn’t make sense. And I think his confusion is reflected in a whole bunch of passages between chapters thirteen and twenty-eight. You see, as he talked to his friends and they offered their same lame comments, Job seemed to become more and more confused and frustrated by the whole thing and turned more and more to God for some kind of explanation. In fact, by the end, Job demanded an answer from the Lord, something that he eventually got, but it was a lot different from what he expected.

And like I said, I think there are times when we struggle with this same question. And I think the reason it happened to him and to us is actually pretty similar. You see, just like Job started to assume that he actually understood the way the universe was suppose to work better than God; therefore, it was up to God to explain why he wasn’t following his own rules, I think we have the tendency to drift in the same direction ourselves. In other words, I think we tend to believe that we’ve become so enlightened, we’ve become so aware, we’ve become so downright spiritual that we may understand God better than he understands himself. We assume our thoughts are God’s thoughts. Our values are God’s values. And those things that we want and expect are the exact same things God wants and expects for us. As a matter of fact, we come to believe that we can actually speak for God, you know, telling others what God says and picking and choosing stuff in God’s word that applies and that doesn’t apply and then turning the good news of Jesus Christ into a club to beat people into the salvation or as a knife to cut ourselves off from those we really don’t like. Now I think that sort of thing happens all the time, and it happens in ways that are obvious and ways that are almost impossible to see but are still there. In other words, it’s like the great French philosopher Voltaire wrote, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Of course, the Apostle Paul called it something else when he described this human problem to the Romans. He wrote, “From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them. God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse. They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. They claim to be wise, but they are fools. They don’t worship the glorious and eternal God. Instead, they worship idols that are made to look like humans  who cannot live forever, and like birds, animals, and reptiles.” (Romans 1:18-23) You see, when we assume that we know God so well that we can now do those things that only God is allowed to do, like running around and condemning everything in sight, we’ve actually become idol-worshipers. We’re practicing idolatry. We’re barking up the wrong theological tree. And regardless of the alias we use, we have become our own god, and that’s why we start assuming that we know all the important stuff. And because of that, we can now narrow our perspective, you know, put on the blinders so we can only see what we want to see. And that’s why we end up becoming so doggone confused and frustrated when something happens and we’re forced to recognize that our vision is really stupid. And so when a lot of the stuff we thought was right proves to be just a lot of words, I think, it’s at that point when we find ourselves standing all by ourselves, asking why don’t I understand what’s going on?

But I’ll tell you, when that happens, when our idols, meaning ourselves, when we prove to have feet of clay, I believe we can do three things we probably didn’t consider doing when we knew all we needed to know. And even though these three decisions won’t give us all the answers we may want, they just might enable us to live with the questions we have. And let me briefly tell you what they are. 

You see, when we really don’t understand what’s happening around us, first, we can make the conscience decision to accept our limits. In other words, to do what the actor who first said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” had to do, and that’s to accept that he’s still not a doctor. And regardless of what we play around the neighborhood or at family gatherings or in church, we’re not God nor are we gods nor are we even demi-gods. And it doesn’t matter how smart or spiritual or divine we think we are and it sure doesn’t matter whether or not we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night; we are not God. You see, if we ever want to get a grasp on why we don’t understand all things and aren’t able to explain everything that’s happening around us, I think it’s crucial to accept that we are just limited. That’s what it means to be human. We’re limited. We’re limited in our power. We’re limited in our space. We’re limited in our time. We’re limited in our knowledge. In fact, we’re limited in everything. And we always have been. And even though we may become stronger and fatter and older and smarter some time in the future, we always will be. Therefore, there will always be things we won’t understand. Now maybe some time in the future, maybe God will tell us everything. I don’t know. What I do know is that ain’t happening now. You see, if we’re serious about answering the question, why don’t I understand what’s happening around me, at some point we may have to accept that, given the situation, the answer may be, “because you just can’t.” Not the answer we want, but it may be the only one we’ve got. We need to accept our limits; that’s one.

And second, if we’re interested in understanding why something is happening, we’re probably going to need to broaden our vision. But I’ll tell you, that’s actually really hard to do. I mean, let’s face it, life is easier, it’s more comfortable, it’s more predictable, if we assume these little sayings are true, you know things like: “Industry gives comfort and plenty and respect” or “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas” or “Lend money to an enemy and you will gain him, to a friend and you will loss him,” all sayings from that wise, and good-looking man, Benjamin Franklin. Now it would be great if these aphorisms were all true all the time, but of course they’re not. But if this is all we can see, if we choose to limit our vision just like everything else is limited, without a doubt we’re going to miss any kind of understanding that may be outside the box or off to the side. It’s like the last stanza of that poem by Robert Frost, The Road Least Traveled, “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” To understand, we need to broaden our vision; that’s two.

And finally, I think we need to trust God, and I’m talking about trusting that God loves us and that he holds our destinies in his hands and that he’s leading us into a glorious future. In other words, I believe it’s important for us to make that decision to believe that, as Paul wrote, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.” (Romans 8:31b-34) Now that’s the kind of trust I’m talking about. And even though I’m not sure that trusting God will supply us with the answers that we want, it may enable us to live with the questions we may always have. We really need to trust God, and that’s three.

But you know, when you think about it, just asking the question, why don’t I understand what going on, that should force us to shift our thinking. I mean, when that’s on our mind, we’ve pretty much given up the illusion that God is the one who looks back at us from the mirror. As a matter of fact, whether we like it or not, if we’re serious about finding an answer, the question forces us to accept our limits and to broaden our vision and to trust our God. Of course, that may not help us when our question is, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” But we’ll talk about that next week.

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