Even if you try not to listen too much to the news, chances are that for most of us, this past week was an anxious one. We had threats and careless posturing from world leaders and increasing concerns about the possibility of nuclear war. Yesterday I learned that the Kenyan election results have in fact sparked violence—and the last headline I saw said 24 people had been killed, and fires were being set in villages around Nairobi. Then yesterday afternoon—after a wonderful time at the USFW rummage sale in the morning—I learned about the car that had been driven in to the crowd of people protesting white supremacy in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
It feels like we are being hit by wave after wave of upsetting news—stories that run counter to our natural desires for peace, respect, kindness, light, God. As the volume and the tempo increases, it’s not too hard to imagine there’s a larger unruly force running through our culture, gleefully breaking all the rules for a civil society, and asking us, on a beautiful Sunday morning in our peaceful little church in Noblesville, Indiana: where is your God now?
First I want to answer that directly: God is here, closer than our very own breath. God is here, and God is in Charlottesville. God is in Kenya. There is no place where God is not. God is present as peace, as compassion, as light, as love, as intelligence, as harmony. And it is possible for us to live out that peace, compassion, love, and more in our own lives—even and especially in the midst of such difficult times. But we need to know how to respond to the waves that wrench our hearts and threaten to steal our hope.
As I felt my way through this message this week, I was drawn to Job, who must be the all-time expert on faithful suffering. In the opening passage of Job, we learned that Satan somehow showed up in the heavenly court uninvited—God says, “Where have you come from?”—and Satan answers that he’s been walking all over the earth. God asks whether Satan had noticed Job, “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” But Satan has a trick to play. Satan suggests that maybe Job was not such a good man after all—perhaps he just trusted God because God was blessing him. He said, “Well sure, Job is righteous and loves and praises you now, because he’s blessed and has everything he wants. But take it all away and he will curse you to your face.”
So God let Satan conduct his dastardly experiment. They would see where Job’s loyalties really lie. When he loses everything—his children, his home, his work, his health, his honor—he asks God to just let him “sleep with the worms.” He is tired. He is despairing. But he doesn’t curse God, and he doesn’t blame either God’s integrity or his own for his suffering. In fact, he miraculously doesn’t demand answers to his “Why?” questions, which is such a typically human thing to do. We want to know where this evil comes from. It’s our meaning-making nature to want to assign a cause. But God has something different to offer us than an explanation for the evil. He offers us himself, in the here-and-now.
When Job’s friends suggest that he must have done something wrong to bring these horrible situations on himself, he rejects that idea. He knows deep down that he does not deserve this tragedy. He trusts that one day, God will bring enough light to reveal what his suffering is all about. And God does—after Job goes through a season of terrible suffering during which time he’s blamed and grilled by his unhelpful friends, he proves that his relationship with God is intact—and God ultimately restores all that he has lost. It was a tough, terrible, painful road, but God was in it with Job all along, not even a breath away. At the end of the story, all was well.
Some people take from this story that God tests us to see how faithful we are, to see whether we will really let him be God no matter what happens in our lives, but I don’t believe that our loving God ever puts us through anything that brings us pain or heartache. Sometimes pain and heartache do come—we’ve all experienced it—but the message of Job is that God was right there all along, caring about and looking after Job, and that God ultimately restored order and peace and wholeness in his life—and in our own.
In our New Testament reading today, we hear how Jesus urged his disciples to turn toward God when they are worried about whether their needs will be met. He talks about the lilies of the field and how they are beautiful without striving—God cares for their needs perfectly.
Jesus ends his instruction to the disciples by reminding them to be prepared, to be aware and awake, ready for service. He wanted them to understand what was going on and be able to meet the needs around them with love, compassion, truth, and healing.
This same idea speaks to our condition today. With wave after wave of news, we pay attention and do our best to understand what’s happening and find some kind of suitable, faithful, peaceful response. When we follow the example of the lilies–remembering to turn toward God and trust him to provide peace, answers, comfort, and light, we connect with the source of Love that sustains us. This is where our hope arises. This loving, limitless light helps us begin to reshape our experience, and our prayers and our presence become creative forces in our world.
I think that’s part of what Jesus had in mind when he reminded the disciples to keep turning back to God. When we are connected to the source of love and truth, our power to bring good into the world is magnified. Our words—and even the thoughts we hold of others—have the creative potential to sow seeds of connection or division. Even our tiniest actions contribute to the type of world we want to create in the here-and-now. You’ve probably heard that the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can cause a typhoon halfway around the world. In the same way, a small kindness we do today in Noblesville might start a chain of blessing that stretches around the globe before it’s done. None of us knows for sure—but in God’s economy, it’s possible.
Over the years I’ve developed a kind of prayer process I use to help me remember to continually turn back to God when heartbreaking and frightening stories fill the news. When I start to feel the world is running out of control, or I notice myself feeling pessimistic about our ability to withstand the waves of negativity rolling over us all—which means my hope is dipping low—I question my own thoughts about that and ask God to help me find a better outlook.
The following diagram shows you the general process. At each point, if my answer is No, I take it to God in prayer, asking for more light, hoping to better understand, listening for clarity:
As a kind of epilogue, I want to update you on the story of the violence in Kenya. When I checked the news early this morning, I was afraid the story would be a bad one—additional people killed, villages burned to the ground—and instead I found this on the Associated Press:
“Kenyan areas that were hit by deadly election violence were quiet on Sunday, with many people attending church services and police patrolling some streets. Pastors delivered sermons appealing for calm in the Nairobi slum of Mathare, where rioters have battled police who fired live ammunition and tear gas. The pastors asked congregations to help rebuild and leave matters to God even if they feel they have been victims of injustice. Outside the churches, made of little more than wood frames and tin roofs, children played soccer, darts, checkers, and other games.”
See, Friends? God is in it—right in the moment of unrest and potential violence—with us. The people of Kenya did what Jesus suggested to the disciples: they turned toward God. The violence Kenya experienced in 2007—more than 1,200 dead—didn’t happen. We learn, we grow, we change for the better—it is that of God in us leading the way.
As we continue to deal with the ups and downs of worrisome headlines—we can be fairly certain they will continue, at least in the short term–we can remember that God is in it with us, not even a breath away. Light is truly available to us in every moment—all we have to do is remember to pause and turn toward God. That simple act can transform us from the inside out, giving us confidence, rebuilding our hope, increasing our peace, and helping us create—for ourselves and for the future–the kind of world we want to see.
Thank you, Friends.
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OT: Job 1: 6-12
NT: Luke 12: 27-39