Monday, April 3, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Why doesn’t God make things clear?

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, April 2, 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.


Well, this morning, we’re going to tie up this five-week series dealing with some of life’s more challenging questions. And I’ve got to tell you, I’m a little nervous about this particular message, and I say that for three reasons. I mean, first, after winning four straight national championships and 111 straight games, Friday night the Uconn Lady Huskies lost to Mississippi State, a team they beat 98-38 last year, which means we’ve entered the end times and anything can happen. And second, this is my last message before Palm Sunday and Easter, which means a lot may be riding on what I say today. But the third and by far the most important reason I’m a little tense is that, yesterday afternoon, when she came to change the sign, our sweet, upbeat, cheerful Heather Campbell said to me, “The sermon tomorrow better be good.” Yikes. And so the pressure’s on.

But you know, she’s probably right, I mean since this is the end of the series, man, I’m sure hoping this sermon doesn’t lay an egg, even an Easter egg. Of course, by this point, we’ve already looked at four different questions. For example, during week one, we talked about why 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, maybe we can live with this question regardless of the reason. And in the next message, we focused on why it seems as though people don’t understand us, and as we talked about it, we sort of came to the conclusion that, even though some folks either can't or won't, there are others who want to understand what we’re feeling because they’ve been through the same kind of thing themselves. And then, in the third message, we focused on why there are times when we really don’t understand what's going on ourselves, and we talked about how it may be easier to understand this particular “why” when we accept our limits and broaden our vision and of course, trust our God. And then last week, we considered what I think is one of the toughest questions we face, and I’m talking about why God may be allowing bad things to happen to us? And as we looked at this, we considered how we may never get the kind of answer we really want. Still, just asking the question shows that we believe God really is in control and that maybe some of the discouragement and frustration and confusion we feel can be reduced when we simply make the decision to trust that the one in charge actually loves us. Now that’s what we’ve covered so far.


And this morning, we’re going to look at the fifth and final question: Why doesn’t God make things clear, you know, so that we can understand? And although that really doesn’t seem to be a problem for Job, I’ve got to tell you, it would for me. Of course, that may show that I’m not on Job’s spiritual level, but give me a break. I mean, good night nurse, Job has been suffering for nearly forty chapters. And even though he didn’t understand why, he definitely knew that his friends we’re dead wrong when they said that it was because he’d done something wrong and he just wouldn’t fess-up. No, Job didn’t buy what they were selling. Instead he wanted God to come down and explain why all this was happening. And remember, like we talked about last week, God finally did, but he didn’t give the kind of answer Job wanted. Instead, God said the kind of stuff printed in your bulletin. For example, he said, “Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you; it eats grass like an ox. Its strength is in its loins, and its power in the muscles of its belly. It makes its tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are knit together. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like bars of iron.” What the heck does that have to do with why Job’s suffering? And then he said, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you? Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever? Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on leash for your girls?” Really, Leviathan? Now that’s the kind of stuff God said from the storm. And according to what was written here, after God finished, Job said, and these are his last words, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” That’s what Job said. Of course, I understand what God was getting at in his speech from the whirlwind, you know, that since Job wasn’t God he’ll never fully understand how the universe works. In other words, there will always be mysteries.

But after all he’d been through, if I’d been Job, I’m not sure I’d have been despising myself and repenting in dust and ashes, not without a few follow-up questions. My gosh, I seriously doubt that I’d have found much satisfaction with God’s response. But you know, regardless of whether or not I or we find what God said satisfying, this may be the only answer we’ve got and frankly, I think it does reflect the nature of the world in which we live. I mean, let’s face it, we live in a world that lacks a lot of clarity, a world in which things are constantly changing whether we want them to or not. And it seems that every change starts a whole new row of dominoes falling. And sometimes it feels as though the last one is falling on us. And I’ll tell you, it’s because of this lack of clarity that we end up asking the questions we’ve been asking, you know, like why do bad things happen to good people and why don’t people understand me; why don’t I understand what’s going on and why is God allowing this to happen to me? And even though we may devote our entire lives, and I’m talking about every waking moment, asking God why he’s not making this world and our lives in it more clear; at best, I think we usually get the same kind of answer Job got, but we won’t even get that if we’re not listening.

In other words, when it feels as though we’re looking at ourselves and what we’re facing and we’re doing that  wearing prescription glasses that are way, and I’m talking about way too strong, when that’s what we feel is happening, we may have to come to grips with the fact that that just may be the way it is. I mean, like it or not, we live in a world that lacks clarity, a world of changes that we don’t like, a world of mysteries we don’t understand. And no matter how hard we try to figure it out or pray that God explain it to us, man, we may never have the answers we may want to life’s most challenging questions. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

But even though that may be true, I believe there’s something we can do about it. And even though it’s not going to provide the neat and clean answers we may want, it may enable us to live in a world where things often seem a little obscure and ambiguous and confused. You see, I think we can accept God’s words from the whirlwind and live in a world that lacks clarity, if we can keep our focus on three things, and let me briefly share with you what they are.

For example, first, we can intentionally focus on the Father who loves us, and when I say “Father” I’m talking about God, the Father. And I think he has shown and continues to show that love by being both our creator and our guide. You see, it was God who brought order out of chaos. As it says at the beginning of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” [Genesis 1:1-3] You see, right here, God created order in the midst of water, an ancient symbol for chaos. And it was God who guided the children of Israel from Egypt into their promised land. According to Exodus, “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.” [Exodus 13:21] Now that’s what God did. And for me, this is important for us to remember, and I’ll tell you why. When we feel confused by things that we might never be able to understand, God the Father is the one on whom we need to focus. In other words, we need to focus on the one who stills brings order out of chaos, whether it’s the primordial waters before creation or the turmoil that we can feel within our own lives when things suddenly go drastically wrong. And the Father is the one who, like a good shepherd, continues to guide us not only to green pastures and still waters, but also through the valley of the shadow of death to life on the other side. I’ll tell you, because things are sometime kind of on the vague side, we need to focus on our Father and his constant and eternal love for us. That’s one.

And second, I think it’s also important for us to focus on the Son who saves us: saves us from the mistakes we’ve made in the past, saves us to face the future with hope, and saves us to become everything we were created to be right now. And I’ll tell you, that’s exactly what we’re going to remember the next couple of weeks. Now I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. When Jesus died on that cross, we died too. And because we died in him, we’ve been set free: free from slavery to sin, free from those things that kept us anchored to the past and free from assumptions about ourselves that prevent us from looking to the future. On the cross, we’ve been set free. And when he was raised, raised by the power of God, we got a pretty good vision of our future. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-22]. Man, that’s our future. But more than that, his resurrection gives us a taste of what life can be like right now. And I think this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote to the Romans, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:4] I’ll tell you, because there are times when it may feel like we’re surround by a fog, I believe we need to focus on the Son and the salvation that he brings. And that’s two.

And third, when life seems indistinct and unclear, that’s when I think we need to focus on the Spirit that inspires. Now, in case y’all don’t know this, “inspiration” refers to something that’s “breathed in.” And according to scripture, the Holy Spirit does that for us in two very definite ways. You see, it fills us with an understanding of both the Father and the Son. I mean, just listen to what Jesus himself said: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” [John 16:13-14] You see, the Spirit becomes like a teacher, but that’s not all. He also equips us to do what we were created and called to do. And this is what Paul understood when he wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [1 Corinthians 12:4-7] When the world and our place in it seems unclear, that’s when we need to focus on the Spirit and the inspiration it offers.

Now we’re about done with the last message in this series, and I’ll tell you, I’m feeling much more relaxed, but not because I’ve found solid ground after the order of the basketball universe was shaken or because I’ve ended it all on a high pre-Palm Sunday note or even because I’m sure I haven’t disappointed sister Heather Campbell. As a matter of fact, when it comes to the questions we’ve considered, well, the answer, “I don’t know why” has come up more than frankly I find satisfying. And now that we’re done, I still find myself asking, “God, why don’t you make things more clear?” I guess the world just lacks the clarity I’d like it to have. That’s just the way it is. But you know, the more I keep my focus on the Father who loves and the Son who saves and the Spirit that inspires, the more I just may be able to live with that wonderful word, “why.”

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