Today I want to ask the question, “What does God do in the World?” Let’s talk about that.
There is little debate among Christians about the natural world. From the beginning of creation, God laid down the laws of nature. God fixed the stars in their places, hung the sun and moon, created the earth, and said to the proud waves of the sea, “thus far shall you come, but no further.” That’s poetry–but there is truth in it.
God’s natural law extends to the animal kingdom. Ducks fly south in the winter, and bears hibernate because they are governed by the instincts God gave them. Animals are bound by instinct but are free from the moral law. When the great racehorse Secretariat produced 600 foals (colts and fillies) by almost as many mares, he was not living promiscuously but according to his nature. When a wolf kills another wolf to gain dominance in the pack, he does not murder but lives according to his nature.
In the animal kingdom, only human beings are free to defy’s God’s laws. We are not free to defy natural law. Airplanes break the bonds of the earth but not the laws of gravity. However, we are free to defy the moral law that God laid down to protect us from ourselves and from one another. We defy moral law when we murder, steal, lie, and otherwise fail to love our neighbors in countless ways.
What does God do in the world? The ancient Jew saw God in every natural occurrence. God rode on violent winds, shook the earth, and caused the mountains to melt like wax under a deluge of rain. When a person prospered and lived a long life, they said it was because he kept the law. And when a person lived in poverty and died young, they said it was because she had not kept the law. These same rules were applied to Israel and the nations. There was some dissent, but not a lot.
Today we are more likely to blame bad weather on climate systems and bad health on bacteria and viruses. Few believe that God sits up in heaven sending cancer to one and heart disease or diabetes to another. And a reckless driver hits our car while we are stopped at a traffic light, few of us believe it is God’s judgment on the little white lie we told to avoid an unpleasant meeting.
That said, despite our so-called sophistication, we still believe in the power of sin and its consequences. As the man said, “It is not so much that we break the laws of God, but that we break ourselves upon the laws of God.” More than that, we bring others down with us.
I have taught this for forty years, but I never fully understood it until I became an old man. Life does not give us a lot of do-overs. Now, more than ever, I am sure that we make our choices, and then our choices make us.
As long as the world endures, we will live by faith, not by sight. Thus we continue to struggle with the question of what God does and does not do in the world.
Let me give you an example. The ancient Jews believed that God delivered them at the Red Sea, destroying Egypt’s armies in the process. This was their faith for the better part of 3,000 years. Then, in the 20th century, Jews felt all alone when Hitler and the Nazis killed more than six million of them. Many Jews, like Eli Wiesel, looked at the smoke created by the bodies of burning children and saw the death of their faith and the death of their God.
The Jews are not alone in their death of faith. Many devout Christians have sacrificed faith on the altar of personal misfortune and loss. I well remember driving more than thirty miles at 3:00 a.m. to the home of a woman who had just lost her son in a car crash. When she opened her door to me, she did not immediately let me in. She just beat upon my chest and asked, “Why did God do this!” I did not answer her. I just stood there and took it, thankful that her faith in God was so strong that she could be angry with God and still not lose it. It was several weeks, and several meetings later, that I finally said to her, “When I think about the death of your son, the only God I can believe in is the God of the cross.”
In our text today, Jesus contemplates his impending death and says:
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Jesus had to go to the cross. The cross of Jesus is not only for the justification of humankind before God but also for the justification of God before humankind. It is only when we see Jesus lifted up on the cross that God is revealed in the fulness of his love for us. It is only when we see Jesus lifted up on the cross that he can “draw all people to (himself).”
Thankfully, he draws us, and it is at the cross that we are “born anew to a living hope,” as we come before the Christ who died for our sins and rose again to give us a future and a hope.