When Bad Things Happen:
Ideas to Cling to in the Midst of the Storm
January 2, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. Small world, isn’t it? That’s a phrase we use when we meet someone who has an acquaintance in common with us. It’s what happens when we go to an airport in a foreign country and we meet someone from Hillsborough. Small world, isn’t it? And getting smaller all the time, thanks to electronic media. And it’s an especially small world today, because even in this season of celebration, even in this season of the new year where we’re celebrating the passing of the old and the coming of the new and the anticipation of life to come, our hearts are broken and our spirits are crushed because of our “next-door” neighbors in South Asia. For even though they are half a world away, they are neighbors indeed.
We feel so many things, don’t we? We feel grief, astonishment, disbelief that such a thing could happen. Well, dear Christian friends, let me just say this: I’m glad that we’re here together today in God’s house to contemplate the word of the Lord and to see what the Lord might be saying to us to get us through a time like this, to help our neighbors and each other in this small world of ours.
It seems to me that we’re asking several questions. We’re asking what happened. We’re asking what shall we think about during this time; what’s the main thing we should think about? And we’re asking why. And we’re asking how. How can we help? As a Christian people, I want to suggest to you that the Bible has words to speak to our hearts today. I’m going to be sharing some Scripture verses that you may want to keep close, so that you can meditate upon them later on.
The first thing I’d like to invite us to think about is what – what should we think about? What is the main thing that we should be concentrating on as people dedicated to Jesus Christ and God? I would suggest this: Psalm 103:2. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” Yes, my friend, even at this moment, when we hold an enormous respect and profound grief over all that the world is going through this day, even as we hold in our minds the unspeakable images that have been projected upon us by the news media, even in times like those, even when our faith seems to be squeaking a little bit at the jarring of all these things, I say to you this: The image to hold in mind is “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
Because, dear Christian friend, if the world does not have your perspective, if it does not have the perspective of the Christian, what does it have? Oh, dear friend, even though the winds of the storm may blow and cause the ship of faith to list to the side, it will not capsize. It will not, as long as we keep steady in the faith. So I invite you to bring that boat back up to righteous keel. Bless the Lord, and forget not all His benefits.
Oh, dear friend, everything we have, everything we are, everything we do, every sight your eyes can see, every sound your ears can hear, and every step that you can take are gifts from Almighty God. Even as we are reminded this day of the gifts of the Magi to the infant King, let us be reminded that the greatest gifts of all come from God. Our very lives are gifts. They’re not rights; they’re gifts.
Many, many years ago, when I was studying for my driver’s license, I remember something that was taught in driver’s education. “To drive in the state of New Jersey is a privilege, not a right.” Do you remember that? But it’s also true of our lives. It’s a privilege. Every time we open our eyes in the morning, it’s a profound and unspeakable gift. Bless the Lord, and remember that all our benefits come from Him. That’s where we begin. And that’s the perspective we need to hold firm to, to bring that ship of faith back up to normal keel.
So, what do we hold in mind? That life is a gift, always a gift, and all good gifts come from Thee, O Lord.
The next thing that is on our minds, certainly, is why – why did it happen. I got an email from a wonderful member of our church who said to me, “Pastor, why do bad things happen to good people?” That is a profound question, indeed. Why do disasters happen? Why do natural occurrences like floods and such occur? If the world is perfect, if God’s creation is perfect, why does it happen? But I assure you, I have been thinking about this long and hard, and I offer you this thought: Redemption is complete. We are perfectly restored to our relationship with God and to God’s love through Jesus Christ. That is perfect and complete. But creation is not perfection. Remember how it says in the Book of Genesis, “The Lord created the heavens and earth, and He looked upon all He created, and He said, ‘Behold, it is very, very good.’” But it is not perfect. The Bible doesn’t say that creation is perfect. It doesn’t line up with what our conception of perfection may be. Beyond that is a mystery. Why is it not perfect? I do not know. I know, and you know, that it is very, very, very good, and it is about as close to perfection as one could imagine, but it is not completely perfect. And things happen in the physical world that sometimes we wish would not.
I submit to you the Book of Isaiah, 11th chapter, verses six through nine, to remind us that in the mind of God is the image of perfect creation. “The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the cow and bear shall graze, the young ones shall lie down together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.”
In the mind of God, yes, there is an image of the perfection of creation. It is not here yet. It is for us to look forward to in the Kingdom. That’s why Jesus loved the notion of Kingdom so much. But from here to there it is our job to have faith and do what we can to perfect it.
Geologic slides under the earth, plates shifting over millions of years – creation is still in progress. So, redemption is complete, but creation is not perfect. And therein is our faith. But may I – would you allow me to go one step further – and say that even though creation isn’t perfect, is this not a reminder to humankind to do the best we can with our stewardship and our management of the earth? Dare we turn out back on the environment? Could it be – I know about the natural processes of the shifting of the plates, but – that some of the pounding that humankind has given the earth has had an effect on this? Over the last 60 years, has not humankind done a lot of atomic testing? If we take a pebble and throw it into a clear pond, the ripples undulate out to the edge. There are implications under the surface. Are we to think that the atomic testing we’ve been doing has had no effect on the earth? Are we expecting creation to be so resilient as to absorb whatever pounding humankind can give it? What about underground testing? How far underground? How many tests do we know about? How many tests do we not know of? We cannot pound the earth mercilessly and expect that it will be resilient enough to compensate for all of it.
Should we blame God for glacial melting and global warming, or should we, as best we can, be aware of environmental concerns and promote them as best we can? When we ask, “Why did God allow this?” we must also ask, “Why did humankind allow this?” A corollary to that is, if we can put a man on the moon, can we not have seismographic indicators in various parts of the world that would give us some warnings in times like this? I’m told of a 10-year-old girl who stood on one of the beaches in the affected areas in South Asia who knew enough about geography to know that when there was a recess of water, like that she was observing, a tsunami was coming. She told her mother. Her mother warned the other people on the beach. Not one person was lost in the tsunami in that particular part of the world. Thank you, little girl! Certainly, we can be good stewards of our resources and see to it that as many people can be saved from such disasters as possible. So, the why of it.
And third, how. How can we help? Can we help? Sure we can. The first way we can help is through prayer. Oh, dear friends, never underestimate the power of your prayer consciousness. Prayer changes things. The consciousness of prayer is a powerful, powerful thing. I often feel prayed for – thank you! I often find myself having strength, and I don’t know where it comes from. Oh, yes I do. But it feels to me like I’m being prayed for by somebody, probably by you folks. It is a wonderful, powerful thing. Don’t underestimate its power. Step forward in faith, go through the golden doors of your prayer consciousness, and send vibrations of light and energy to the people that need it most. God knows who they’ll be. So pray; that’s one thing we can do.
Second, we can physically help, through United Methodist Commission on Relief, as you’ve done this morning, and through other agencies that you choose to help. We can help with the food and the blankets and the aiding of these people. We can help in a practical way.
And third, we can help emotionally. Even though this crisis is so much before us, so much in our minds, I submit to you that it is not the only place in the world where tough things are happening. Please know it. In every hospital in the United States, every hospital room, every maternity ward, every extended care center, and every critical care floor, there are hard things happening emotionally. We as Christians can be the sensitive people. We can be sensitive to people not only in South Asia but all around us – maybe sitting next to you – who are hurting today. We can do something about the tragedy in the world.
In a church in Germany, there is a statue of Jesus. The statue is damaged. It was damaged when a bomb came through the roof of the church, and the hands on the statue of Jesus were blown off. At the base of the statue are the words, “I have no hands but yours,” and the statue was left in its unrepaired state.
You can reach out to people near you and be the comforting voice of hope and caring, and be indeed the hands and the heart of the Lord Jesus.
I’d like to close today where we began. The most important thing is not to lose hope. The most important thing is to keep your faith strong. The most important thing is to keep your spirit alive in Christ, and thus be a light to the world. In parting, remember this verse from the Book of John, 16th chapter: “Jesus said, ‘In this world, you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” You be the one, you be the light, you be the helper. Let your hands be the hands of Christ and your heart His heart. We can do something, and God is blessing us now. Because God loves you. I do, too. God bless you with a blessed new year. Amen.
© 2005 Anthony J. Godlefski