Tag Archives: theodicy

When Bad Things Happen – Sermon on Luke 13:1-9

Lent 3C
March 24, 2019

In the Friday from First message, I mentioned a fancy theological term for the question, “How can a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to people?” That term is theodicy. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. You don’t have to remember the term. But it’s the first thing we think of when catastrophes happen, especially when they happen to us, or to people we know.

Why does God allow evil to thrive? How can God just stand by and watch as hundreds of people are killed by a cyclone ripping through Mozambique and Madagascar, or while dozens of people are gunned down in Christchurch, New Zealand? How can someone who has never smoked a single cigarette die from lung cancer? How does a perfectly healthy young mother, who has devoted her life to ministry, die abruptly from an infection? Where is God in all that suffering? Continue reading

Living Like Jesus: Hidden in Plain Sight – Sermon on Mark 6:14-29

July 15, 2018

Have you ever noticed that bad stuff always seems to happen just when you thought things were great? I’m a pretty optimistic person, but as I get older, I notice myself becoming wary whenever things start going well. I start “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” And I think I know exactly when I started this business of anticipating the worst whenever life was really good. Continue reading

When Not to Pull Weeds – Sermon on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Second Sermon in a Three-Part Series: Parables – Stories that Read Us
July 23, 2017
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

[Jesus] put before them another parable:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

but while everybody was asleep,
an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
So when the plants came up and bore grain,
then the weeds appeared as well.
And the slaves of the householder came and said to him,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where, then, did these weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.
Let both of them grow together until the harvest;
and at harvest time I will tell the reapers,
Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned,
but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house.
And his disciples approached him, saying,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”

He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
the weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sowed them is the devil;
the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,
and they will throw them into the furnace of fire,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Let anyone with ears listen! – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Maybe you’ve wondered this yourself, or you know someone who has. I hear it all the time, as people come here looking for help when they’ve reached the end of their rope. Imagine a young mother losing her job when she misses too much work because her kids were too sick to take to day care.

Without income, she can’t pay her bills, and is threatened with having her utilities shut off, or being evicted from her home. On top of that, the car breaks down, and she has no money for repairs. Without a car, she can’t look for a new job. One thing piles on top of another until she is overwhelmed with hardship. She feels victimized, as if the world is out to get her. “How can God let this happen?” she asks me. “What have I done to deserve this?”

Such a moment isn’t always the perfect moment to point out that actually, none of us are good, all of us deserve far worse than we get out of life. We are all broken sinners. And it isn’t usually a good time to go into a long explanation of theodicy, that fancy theological word for the question, “Why does God allow evil in the world?” People like this young mother don’t come to me looking for a judgmental sermon. They come looking for a glimmer of hope.

The people who gathered on that beach to hear Jesus tell them stories weren’t much different. They had experienced oppression from Rome. Even among their own people, they had watched the rich get richer while the poor got poorer. Life wasn’t fair. How could God allow his people to continue to suffer, while evil seemed to flourish around them? When would Messiah deliver them from this miserable existence, and bring judgment to Israel’s oppressors? Continue reading

When Dreams Get Real – Sermon on Genesis 45:1-11, 25-28

You can watch the video of this sermon here.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen that in the Bible there are two story lines. The upper story is God’s story where God fulfills his purpose and the lower story is the human characters’ story with all the complexities and details of life. Sometimes those details look like God is acting unfairly.

It doesn’t seem fair for God to kick Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, for example. It doesn’t seem fair for God to favor Isaac over his older half-brother Ishmael, either. But God’s purpose is only made known to us when we see things from an “upper story” perspective. God calls us to capture the upper story and its effects on our lives. The story of Joseph is a great example of how the upper and lower story lines come together in the Bible. Help me out here. Tell me when you think something that happens to Joseph is good (thumbs up), and when it’s bad (thumbs down). Then let’s see how God uses the bad to create good through Joseph.

The story starts in Genesis 37, when Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. (That’s bad) Joseph is 17 and is “the favorite” of his father Jacob (Rachel’s son). (That’s good) Joseph had dreams of his brothers and parents bowing down to him. This does not make him popular. (That’s bad) Joseph’s brothers sell Joseph to a band of Ishmaelites, and they tell Jacob that Joseph was killed by a ferocious animal. The Ishmaelites take Joseph to Egypt as a slave. (That’s bad)

Joseph is sold as a slave to an Egyptian official named Potiphar and becomes Potiphar’s right hand man. (that’s good) Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph. (that’s bad) When Joseph refuses her advances, she falsely accuses him of assaulting her, and Joseph ends up in prison. (that’s bad) While in prison Joseph gets a reputation for correctly interpreting dreams. (Baker, cupbearer) (that’s good)

Joseph never plays the victim card, but he stays connected to God.
Over and over, we read that “The LORD was with Joseph” (39:2, 23). (That’s good)

Pharaoh has troubling dreams that none of his wise men and magicians can interpret for him. (that’s bad) But remember the reputation Joseph built in prison for being a good dream interpreter? (this could be good) Joseph is called to Pharaoh and correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and counsels Pharaoh to prepare for what they say about the future. (that’s good)

Dream #1- Egypt will have 7 years of bountiful harvests (that’s good)
Dream #2- Egypt will have 7 years of famine. (that’s bad)

Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of carrying out a plan to prepare for the years of famine, and this puts Joseph exactly where he needs to be in God’s upper story of redemption. Joseph is promoted to Deputy Pharaoh in Egypt at age 30 (Genesis 41). (that’s good)

The famine hits Canaan, where Jacob and his other sons still live. (that’s bad) Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to ask for food, and they do bow down to Joseph. (is this good or bad, do you think?) Joseph is now age 39. It’s been  22 years from the time of his initial dream to its fulfillment.

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for in Joseph’s story. Continue reading