Monday, March 27, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Why Is God Allowing this to Happen?

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 26, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fourth message 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 (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


I’ve got to tell you, I think today is a wonderful day. I don’t know about y’all, but for me, spring is actually here. Now, I’m not stupid; we’re probably going to have a few cold days, but I think I’m fairly safe in saying that most of the snow and the ice are over. And in just three weeks, we’ll be celebrating Easter. And even though that signifies all kinds of important stuff, it also means we’ve only got a couple of weeks to go in this series we started when it was cold and snowy and generally grey.

And during the last three weeks, we’ve used the Book of Job to look at some of life’s more challenging questions. For example, in the first week, we talked about the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? And we looked at how, when we accept that we’ve been cleansed and that, in the future, we’ll be saved and that right now God is with us, well, we can sort of live with the questions even when the reasons aren’t all that clear. That was week one. And then in the second message, we talked about the question, Why don’t people understand me? And we kind of came to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, some folks either can’t or won’t understand what we’re going through, but there are others, and I’m talking about good, sincere people who can identify with what we’re facing and who are willing to face it with us. That was week two. And last week, we talked about the question, Why don’t I understand what’s going on? And as we discussed, that may be easier to understand the minute we accept our limits and broaden our vision and of course, trust our God. Now that’s what we’ve covered to this point.

And this morning, we going to focus on another question that I think can cause a few tosses and turns, and now I’m talking about the question: Why is God allowing this to happen? And I’ll tell you, even though it’s not written on the front of the bulletin, I really think you could add the words “to me” at the end. I mean, why is God allowing this to happen to me?

And you know, according to the Book of Job, this is really the question Job had from the middle all the way to the end. And why shouldn’t he? I mean, we know that, even though Job was a good and righteous man, God allowed Satan to hammer him will all kinds of stuff he really didn’t deserve. And when Job said that he was innocent, his friends assumed that he was a liar and that he was hiding something, because they were sure that a God of love and justice wouldn’t allow a truly good and righteous person to suffer. That would violate the rules that God himself had given, and even though both Job and the reader know that’s exactly what happened, Job’s friends didn’t know this nor did Job. And although it would have been easy for Job to just surrender his integrity and say he’d done something he hadn’t or turn his back on both his friends and his God, Job didn’t do that. Instead, he simply turned to God and, in essence, asked why. Why are you allowing this to happen to me? And I’ll tell you, that’s something we see not only in the chapter I gave you this morning in your bulletin, but throughout the last half of the book. You see, as Job went through all this suffering that he knew wasn’t right or deserved, he became discouraged. And as he listened to his good friends tell him that he was both a hypocrite and a liar, he became frustrated. And as he compared the rules that he’d followed his entire life, you know, that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, all this made him more and more confused. And so he simply wanted God to come down and explain how all this was justified, you know, for God to explain how he could allow this kind of injustice to happen.

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s the sort of question a lot of very dedicated and sincere believers end up asking when things happen that are unexpected and just don’t seem fair. You see, after spending some time maybe thinking about the nature of suffering and after enduring the comments of people who either don’t understand or frankly don’t care and after trying to make some sense of it all themselves, a lot of these discouraged and frustrated and confused Christians turn their attention right to God himself and expect him to offer an answer that’s better than the mess they’ve gotten from others or come up with themselves, you know, something that might actually make sense of a tragedy or an accident or a disaster that really doesn’t make sense, not in a physical world that’s suppose to be governed by rational laws or a spiritual universe that’s supposed to be controlled by a loving and just God. As a matter of fact, I think this kind of thing can actually make folks who believe that God really does protect his children, man, it can make us become so discouraged and frustrated and confused that we ask that $64 question: Why is God allowing this to happen? And even though hearing this kind of thing come out of our mouths may cause some people to cringe a little bit, I think there are three pretty important things to remember when we ask the question.

For example, first, I think we need to recognize that we’re probably not going to get any kind of answer that really satisfies. Now I say “probably”, because it’s a bad idea to use words like “never.” I mean, there may be an example of person getting an answer that explains it all. I’m just saying we probably shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for it. And I think the reason that the kinds of answers we want are so few and far between, well, I think that’s kind of obvious. You see, it comes down to the simple fact that God is God and we’re not. Like we talked about last week, while God is absolutely free, man, our entire lives are defined by limits, and I’m talking about limited power, limited knowledge, limited space, limited time, even limited love. We are creatures and not the creator. And so we’re probably never going to understand why our teacher gave that pop quiz or our company laid-off middle management or our hamster got sick. And I’ll tell you, that’s really what Job encountered when God finally did do what Job had asked him to do. You see, God actually did come right before him. But instead of explaining himself, from a storm, the Lord and creator of the universe said to Job, “Face me and answer the questions I ask! Are you trying to prove that you are innocent by accusing me of injustice? Do you have a powerful arm and a thundering voice that compare with mine? If so, then surround yourself with glory and majesty.” [Job 40:7-10] And then, God rattled through all the things that he had done and could do and that Job hadn’t and couldn’t. You see, when we ask this question, we’re probably not going to get the kind of answer we want. That’s one thing to recognize.

And second, I also think we need to recognize that just by asking the question, we’re actually making a pretty profound statement of faith. I remember, years ago, when I was working for a church out in Montana, a woman, who was obviously upset, told me that while she was on vacation, her best friend died suddenly and unexpectedly and when she told another friend that she was angry at God for letting this happen, she was told she shouldn’t ever be angry at God; he had nothing to do with it. Now that’s what she was told me, but you know, that’s not what we see in the Psalms. I mean, just listen to this, from the thirteenth Psalm: “How much longer, Lord, will you forget about me? Will it be forever? How long will you hide? How long must I be confused and miserable all day? How long will my enemies keep beating me down?” [Psalm 13:1-2] Or this from Psalm 42: “You are my mighty rock. Why have you forgotten me? Why must enemies mistreat me and make me sad? Even my bones are in pain, while all day long my enemies sneer and ask, ‘Where is your God?’” [Psalm 42:9-10] No, when we offer this kind of prayer to God, we’re not questioning his authority, rather we’re recognizing it. We’re affirming it. You see, we’re acknowledging that God really is in control. And we’re accepting that when Jesus said, “[God] makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong” [Matthew 5:45b], he knew what he was talking about. When we look to God for an explanation, we’re saying he’s able to give it, because he’s in control. And I’ll tell you something else, I think asking that question also shows that we feel close enough to God that we can express to him our hopes and dreams and our fears and frustrations without worrying about losing his love. You see, I think asking the question actually shows faith. And that’s something else we need to recognize.

And third, after we ask the question, that’s the time we need to make the decision to trust God and his love. And you know, that’s exactly what happened to Job when, after hearing from God, he said, “No one can oppose you, because you have the power to do what you want. You asked why I talk so much when I know so little. I have talked about things that are far beyond my understanding.”[Job 42:2-3] And as to the psalms, listen to how the thirteenth Psalm ends: “I trust your love, and I feel like celebrating because you rescued me. You have been good to me, Lord, and I will sing about you. [Psalm 13:5-6] And according to the Psalmist in the Psalm 42: “Why am I discouraged? Why am I restless? I trust you! And I will praise you again because you help me, and you are my God.” [Psalm 42:11] Now, we’ve talked about this before, you know, how faith is always a decision, a decision to step into a dark room, a decision to accept that God not only loves us but holds our destinies in his hands. You see, it’s a decision to trust that despite what we might see or even feel, God has cleansed us and will lead us into a glorious future and is with us now, right in the middle of the problems and pain we may be facing. You see, after we ask God “why,” that’s when it’s important to trust.

You see, regardless of the time of year, I think most of us will be in situations that cause us to feel discouraged and frustrated and confused. And at those times, regardless of what we hear coming from the outside or are thinking about on the inside, we could very well be in the same position as Job. And when we, like him, ask God why he’s allowing this to happen, I think it’s important for us to recognize that we may not get the answer we want but also that asking the question reflects our own faith. And finally, after the question is asked, then we need to decide whether or not we’re going to trust God, something that may shift our focus from troubles we’re facing to the one who’s holds our future in his loving hands.

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