On Easter day, we renewed our faith in the resurrection, and we praised God’s presence in the world in Christ Jesus. By now we have most likely put the day away for another year. In the meantime, the resurrection of Jesus seems to have little connection with the situations of daily life. That is, if God is so in charge that he overcame death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, why do we still have undeserved, unpredicted, and unfathomable tragedy.
Can we just mention displaced persons, refugees, or Brussels or the terrible muddle of our political scene or which public bathroom can be used by whom? Every news cycle has a new tragedy, both personal and national. Boating accidents, unidentified bones, earthquake in China, volcano action in Iceland, suicide bombers. You get the picture. People ask, “God, why don’t you give us a peaceful world? Why don’t you prevent undeserved death and why don’t you stop murderers and drunk drivers?”
St. Paul told us why, in Romans, eighth chapter. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” The whole of God’s creation has been infected, diseased, crippled, by sin and the work of the devil. The serpent in the garden overcame Adam and Eve’s best intentions and the whole world has been taken in by the devil’s promise that his way is better than God’s way. Innocent people suffer as a consequence. The world is sick. No one excuses those who are responsible for the innumerable tragedies, but the suffering of innocent people is so woven into life that we ask “Why, God?”
Or more often, “God, why me?” Do we rail against the fact that every day is not Easter Day all over again? We want God to make good on his promises right now, right here. God promises that life eternal will be good, but we hope God will make this life better than we often find it, day by day. Our wish for God to be different is not new. Once Jesus was at the center of the question. When he was visiting the area of the temple called Solomon’s porch, the Jews gathered around him.
That doesn’t mean they came and stood politely in a circle so they could all be close to him. They got up in his face. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly?” Does their taunt sound familiar? “God, if you have come to save the world, start by taking away this thorn in my flesh. If you are powerful, heal me.
“And why don’t you do something about tragedies and accidents and wrongful deaths, not to mention the consequences of old age and disease.
“God, if you are in control, can I count on every day to seem like Easter all over again? Will you give me some reason to believe that you will take care of me and those I love?”
We are much like those who confronted Jesus. They wanted a clear sign. They were calling out in that timeless cry, “God do something for me.”
We all ask the same question in one way or another. “God, what do you want me to do with my life? God, will you please give me a straight answer about whether you can be trusted to take care of me, to help me make the right choice, or rescue me from this cloud of tragedy?”
The Jews who surrounded Jesus wanted to put God on trial. “If you are really in charge, why don’t you tell us plainly?” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you won’t believe. My works bear witness to me, but you won’t believe because you do not belong to my sheep.” Jesus was referring to two specific occasions when he had given a clear answer. Earlier in John’s story, Jesus told the woman at the well that the hour was coming when people would worship God in spirit and in truth, knowing that they were in God’s presence. The woman said, “I know that messiah is coming, and when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus replied, “I who speak to you am he.”
The second occasion was when he gave sight to the blind man. When the religious authorities questioned the man, he replied, “If this man who healed me was not from God, he could not have done it.” Those who were questioning him did not like that answer. We also don’t like the answers we get from God. We pray for healing, and it doesn’t come. We pray for peace, and nations continue to fight. We pray for marriages to work, and now they’re in divorce court fighting about the property. We pray for strength, and discover how weak we really are.
No wonder the spirit of Easter fades. We are disappointed in God. He is frankly difficult to deal with. A nun wrote, “God, look at my pain and suffering. If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” But do we have the wrong idea about God, and Easter? After all, we grow up believing that God is generally in charge of the world, and responsible for whatever happens. At least we expect him to prevent the bad things.
When disasters come, even religious people can lose their enthusiasm. They stop looking to the usual prayers and ceremonies as being useful. Some people try to get even with God. They become resentful and neglect their religious expressions. They say, No, I’m not going to pray and sing and worship in church. What do I have to be thankful for?” For my part, I was greatly relieved to read in the book, “When bad things happen to good people,” that at least one other person found himself to be angry with God. The author of that book says, “Actually, being angry at God won’t hurt God. And neither will it provoke him to take measures against us.
“If it makes us feel better to vent our anger at him over a painful situation, we are free to do it. The only thing wrong here is that what happens to us is not really God’s fault.” There are numerous evils in this world that we would like to pin on God, particularly for his failure to force a better outcome to a particular situation. The property insurance companies blame God for tragedy, in the fine print at the bottom of the page. “This insurance policy does not apply in case of fire, earthquakes, tidal wave, or other acts of God.” So let’s blame God.
Does our faith also have a clause that we’ll believe in God as long as life runs smoothly, but does not apply in cases of individual disaster, personal injury, terminal disease or other acts of God? Why blame poor old God? The Jews who questioned Jesus in the temple had built a box for God, and they wanted him to jump over into it. They would believe him if he gave answers they wanted to hear. “Tell us, they said, “Whether you are from God.”
Some of our modern mystics and religious advisors suggest that we cuddle up to God. All we have to do, they say, is to think warm fuzzy thoughts about God’s love and the rest of the world will go away. Let’s pretend that we are never angry or disappointed with God, and let’s just say that life is all A-O-K. In doing so, we will deny God the opportunity to be God, and we make him over into a pleasant grandfather who does all our thinking for us.
The Jews who questioned Jesus made the error of thinking they had to know God better. Our error is in thinking that we do. Our crucial question is not, “Are Jesus’ words clear?” But “Do we follow him in all of life? Are we obedient?”
The Christian community is not made of people to whom God has spoken clearly, but we are those who follow the shepherd.
“Are we obedient?” If that were the test question for our faith, or for direction in life, we’d probably have fewer members of the household of God.
The question is not whether God can prove resurrection so that those who are difficult to persuade will now believe.
The question is whether we trust Jesus Christ as Lord so that we can find power to live in the world and turn to God day by day.
We do not live moral lives in order to be saved, or to earn the right relationship with God. We do good deeds in response to salvation and in order to bring about a better world.
Our responsibility is not to save ourselves by solving all the tragedies in this world, but in the midst of struggle, and doubt, and confusion and even death, to stick with the victorious God.
We in the Christian community know that God has not always remained hidden.
He has spoken to us in the person and life of Jesus Christ. He is the word with which God has broken his silence in the here and now of our existence. The day of resurrection gave a new definition to faith.
Jesus Christ by the power of God opened the door to a new way of living day by day by which in spite of all evidence to the contrary, God will save us even from ourselves. In his hand, we, like sheep, are forever secure.
Jesus’ pattern of obedience is the model for us as we go through this world.
For those in this world who set their feet on that same path of obedience, God in the risen Christ is speaking yet.
And, for them, — that is, for us, —
Easter comes every day.