After last week's sermon I got two bits of implicit advice, one right after service, one late in the work week. First, get into the meat of the talk more quickly. Second, keep it shorter.
So, let's jump right in with some questions:
- Did God create the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them?
- Is God sovereign over all His creation?
- Is God omnipresent—that is, everywhere?
- Is God love?
- Is God in control?
- Is God omnipotent—that is, all powerful?
- Does God hear prayer?
- Does God answer prayer?
If you are a true Christian you are likely to answer yes to all those questions. As such, please try to answer one additional question in these words spoken during Hurt's song, "Adonai":
If God is here
And God is love
Was he there when I got touched?
While I was calling out his name?
The answer to his query, "Was God there?" is another simple yes. However, that's not really the question being asked, is it?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
The real question is…
Why didn't a loving, powerful, present God stop me from being abused as a boy when I cried out for His help?
And that question is not so easy to answer, is it?
Expanding the Question
That difficult song doesn't stop the hard questions there…for instance, a bit later the vocalist, J. Loren Wince, sings:
Everyday millions pray
To all of your different names
Shelter me from harm
Well, your earthquakes make tidal waves
Hurricanes will batter people till they starve
Yet there is no eternal reason
That wars are waged
Children in your very shape
Stripped and sold for porn
I guess disease means love
That's why you don't pick them bodies up
The bodies that you made
In essence Hurt expands the question from just a single horribly abused child to a world where (between nature and man) people suffer greatly and often while, apparently, an omnipotent God (who could stop all the pain from happening) sits idly by…
My God, my God…
Those "Where are you?" or "Where were you?" type questions of God don't just happen out in the world. The song actually starts with someone speaking, best I can tell, "Adonai, Eli lema sabachthani"…which is basically a combination of the Hebrew word for Lord and the beginning of our Scripture for today.
Lord, God, why have you forsaken me?
Let's look at Psalm 22:1-2 together once again:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
And that expression of "Where are you?" isn't unique to Psalm 22. Psalm 10:1 reads:
10 Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 13:1-2 asks:
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
And Psalm 74:1 wonders:
1 O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
I suspect each of us has felt, at times, like we were forsaken by God.
Perhaps it would be fair to also say, given the terrible things that happen continually around the globe, that is accurate to ask, "Lord, why have you forsaken us?"
Why, Lord, if you are loving and can stop evil, do you allow it to rule this planet?! Why do you let it affect innocent children?!
Before any attempt can be made to answer these difficult, but important questions, I have to ask the questioner…
- Are you honestly asking a question or are you making a statement in the form of a question?
- Is there any answer that will satisfy?
- Are you willing to listen?
Because I believe that God invites us to ask Him hard things—one of the nicest features of Psalms is that it demonstrates how to be honest with the Lord. If you are heartbroken, tell Him! If you are happy, tell Him! If you are angry, tell Him! If you don't know why He isn't answering, ask Him!
But, don't be surprised if when He responds to your inquiry about His apparent absence in your time of need He responds with a question similar to what we find twice in Jonah. The first time was after Jonah gave in, told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed, the Ninevites repented, and the Lord relented. Jonah was none-to-happy 'cause he wanted them destroyed, and he let God know how he felt…how he was mad enough to want to die.
And the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4).
The second time is almost immediately after. On a hot day the Lord grew a plant to shade Jonah, and that miserable prophet was actually happy for a short period of time. The next day, however, a God-appointed worm took out the plant. Let's join the story there:
When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, "It is better for me to die than to live." 9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die." 10 And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:8-11)
When we ask our Lord our…and the band Hurt's…hard questions there is a good chance He'll first ask us back, "Do you do well to be angry?" or "Do you really want the answer?"
Now, if you really do want the answers to Hurt's questions…I'm going to try…
Who Is the World's Prince?
Back when I started this sermon I asked you if you agreed that God was in control…but it was a bit of a trick question. There is no question that God is in control of everything, but that does not mean that every time a chess piece moves it is by His hand—He sovereignly has chosen to allow His creation to have free will. And, when it comes to this earth I believe that in the Garden our original parents, who had dominion over our planet, ceded general day-to-day control of it to the Serpent when they chose to follow him instead of their creator. That doesn't mean that God took a completely hands-off approach, but consider this:
- Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air"
- John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11 call the Devil "the ruler of this world"
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls the evil one "the god of this world"
As I asked in my sermon, "Why, Why, Why?" back in Antrim.
"The prince of the power of the air," "the ruler of this world," and "the god of this world."
Who is in charge of earth?
I think you know the answer…
And it might be comforting to think that the reason the Devil has significant control of our globe is just because Adam and Eve blew it, but be very honest…
Hasn't mankind ever since confirmed their decision in word and deed? Haven't we humans ratified their initial foolish decision every time it comes up for a vote?
And while we are being honest…
Haven't you personally ratified it over-and-over? Sure, if you are a Christian you have chosen the "prince of peace" (Isaiah 9:6) over the "prince of the power of the air," but how often do you catch yourself betraying your allegiance and choosing to follow the ruler of this world?
Every time you sin!
And we are the salt?! (See Matthew 5:13.)
In that same sermon I compared this world to a dark alley in a city. If you are in a bad part of Detroit, head down a dark alley, and get mugged…are you surprised? Do you say to the Detroit Police Department, "How is it that you didn't protect me from getting mugged?"
No, you understand that as long as criminals control dark alleys, bad things are going to happen in them.
Because of Adam and Eve…because of our ancestors after them…because of every one of us…a criminal is in control of this dark alley called earth.
As such, we get mugged…children get mugged…everyone gets mugged…
And trust me, it would be far worse is God completely left the picture.
The Jewish Experiment
"But," you might ask, "Why doesn't God just take control? Why doesn't He just go ahead and protect everyone, especially the children?"
Let's just ponder those questions for a little bit.
First, most who ask it still want to have their own individual freedom. That is, they want to prevent you from hurting them…or children…but in return do not want God to prevent them from doing what they desire. That is, they want their cake and to eat it too.
Protect me from the actions of everyone, but don't prevent me from doing things that, inherently, harm others and myself.
Second, we have pages and pages of Scripture that describe an experiment where God stepped in and interfered greatly with Satan's control of part of this world…with the Israelite nation.
- He called the Israelites.
- He told them exactly what they needed to do to be blessed.
- He told them exactly what would happen if they didn't follow his advice.
- He delivered them from their oppressors.
- He protected them from their enemies.
- He treated them as the apple of his eye.
How did that work out?
Just like many people who ask the questions we are pondering…Israel wanted all His blessings and protection…but without having to give up anything they personally wanted to do.
And this wasn't just a case where God says, "If you don't do what I tell you I'll punish you!"
He told them what would naturally happen if they married foreign wives.
They married foreign wives.
He told them what would naturally happen if they got a king.
They insisted on getting a king.
He told them exactly what would naturally happen if they rejected Him for false gods.
They followed other Gods.
And come to think of it…hasn't that been the way it has worked since day one with us humans?!
Did God fail to warn Adam and Eve of what would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit?
Does God fail to warn you what will happen if you gamble too much, eat to much, sleep around, lie, cheat, murder, steal?
Yet we all choose to listen to the Serpent instead of our creator and then wonder why terrible things happen here on earth.
God's "Jewish Experiment" made it clear that God's protection minus human obedience doesn't work. And when God finally gave them the independence they wanted…well…let's read about it in Matthew 23:37-39:
37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
God longed to have Israel remain under His protective wings, but they refused. God gave Israel what they wanted…freedom from Him…which would mean freedom from His protection too…and they were destroyed.
God longs to have this earth under His protective wings, but we refuse.
And then we damn Him when, given exactly what we request, people suffer for it!
A Fundamental Misunderstanding
Ultimately these "Where were you?!" questions (and the judgments of God implicit in them) are because of a fundamental misunderstanding about importance.
We humans put the individual creation (often ourselves) above the creator…which makes absolutely no sense. And, also ultimately, that is exactly why we are in this mess. The created cannot be safe and secure without allowing the creator to be in control.
We ask for complete and utter freedom and then condemn Him when we reap the consequences of such a naive and foolish request being granted.
No…come to think of it…we don't ask…we demand!
We demand our complete and utter freedom and then condemn Him when we reap the consequences of such a naive and foolish insistence being granted.
Yes, there'll come a day when God finally says, "Enough is enough," ends the Devil's reign here on this world, and removes everyone who says, "My will, not yours" to God.
But notice how that only makes sense because along with wresting control of our planet from the Devil God rids it of those who keep helping Satan mess it up. Our Lord is no dummy, and He realizes just how impossible it is to expect perfect outcomes without perfect conditions.
Don't Stop Asking Questions
I pray for the band Hurt. I don't want them to stop asking questions…and God doesn't either.
But I worry that they may have no interest in the answer. I hope they do.
Why does a loving all powerful God who is everywhere allow children to be hurt?
Because we humans choose to follow a different god and reap the natural consequences of that god's hate for us instead of the natural blessings of the only true God's love for us.
We are like rebellious kids who don't want our parents to turn off our credit cards even though we've told them to get our of our lives. Who don't want to get venereal diseases even though we sleep around. Who don't want to get fat even though we eat too much and don't exercise. We don't want trouble at work even though we gossip behind people's backs.
We don't want children to suffer even though, for all intents and purposes, we are the ones pointing a loaded weapon at their heads and pulling the trigger. But…
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:1-4).
All I can say is, "Amen. Come Lord Jesus!" (See Revelation 22:20.)
Image of Hurt's The Crux from Amazon.com.