A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on May 1, 2011.
When good things happen, that is not a sign that human nature is good. It is a sign that God is good and that he uses us to be his agents in the world. When we do good things, that points beyond ourselves to Christ. It is not our righteousness, it is His righteousness. There isn’t anything in the Bible about spiritual “auras.” What there is in the Bible is the glory of God in Jesus Christ. —Fleming Rutledge in Help My Unbelief
It has been quite a week. By my count, I think we have five families with students at the University of Alabama. Of course, there are many other students from the Rome-Floyd County area who attend there. Many people from within the church have family in Alabama or other nearby places that have been deeply affected. It seems to me that each day we have discovered other members of our congregation who have had some impact from the storms of this past week.
In the midst of a week like this, don’t we want to be able to sense God’s presence and activity in our lives and do it in a way that we feel brings us peace? That’s why we talk theology. It is not so we can all be correct and out argue our Roman Catholic friends of whomever we might want to debate theology with. It is so we can understand God better and have a greater sense of God’s work in our lives.
I am not usually a 1-2-3 point preacher, but I am going to be today. As a matter of fact, I am going to have four points. This is going to seem random until I get to the end.
Point No. 1. God’s will is not always done.
I made this statement somewhere locally a few years ago and caught a lot of grief for it because there is a strong sense among some people’s beliefs that everything that happens is always what God wants to happen, and that just simply isn’t so.
I will start with our own experience. If you and I were to look back over our past week, can we not name things that we did that were against the will of God? A white lie. Something we felt we were supposed to do that would be the right thing to do and we turned our backs on it and walked away from it. That is what sin is, isn’t it, when we fail to do the will of God? Why would we even bother to confess our sins if God’s will was done all the time? It just simply doesn’t happen. Our experience tells us that. That is why we feel guilt so often is because we know we did not do what God wanted us to do.
Scripture is our ultimate authority on this, and I would point you to two different pieces of scripture. One is the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus lists so few things in the Lord’s Prayer that he encourages us to ask for but one of them is that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Why pray for it if it is already true? The other is the Book of Job. If you look at all the tragedy that befalls Job, all of his friends try to explain what God is doing but everybody misses the point that the tragedy came about as the result of Satan. Satan was the one who inflicted all these things on Job. That was what Satan desired. Let us just understand very clearly that God’s will is not always done.
Three weeks from today, I am going to preach a sermon about what I learned from cancer. I will go into this part more in that sermon. One of the things we have to fight against is a statement that we often make. Many of us say, and our friends often say to us, Everything happens for a reason. You realize, of course, that is not scripture, and I would defy you to find that in the Bible. It does not say, Everything happens for a reason. That is actually a distortion of what the Apostle Paul says. If you want to include sin as the reason that some things happen, I will agree with you.
Think for a moment about the students who were the victims at Columbine or Virginia Tech. I don’t think you could say, If these people will die today, I can work some kind of amazing thing. I just don’t think that. I think the shooters got up, chose to do evil, went out with loaded weapons, and shot people. The people who were killed were caught in the wake of someone else’s sin. The reason those things happened was because somebody chose to sin. God’s will does not always happen.
Point No. 2. Sins are the bad things we do.
It is the white lie. It is the bald-faced lie. It is adultery. It is retaliation. It is all the things we do that we confess in this time of silent confession that we often do on Sunday morning. But sins are not the same thing as sin. Sin is a power that is at work in the world. The power of sin works everywhere.
Let me give you the best illustration of this that I can. Let’s just say you have a baby, grandbaby, niece, nephew, neighbor—some little baby that you think is simply the most adorable child in the world. This child has come to the place where it raises its arms for you to pick up when you come in. When you leave, the baby cries because it wants to be near you. You think, This is the most perfect child that God ever created.
Then about the time the child gets to be 10 or 12 months old, it is sitting in the high chair and it has a sippie cup. The child takes the cup and drops it. You think, The child is exploring the laws of gravity. Isn’t this a bright child? You pick up the sippie cup and put it back on the high chair. As you turn to walk away, you catch this little hand out of the corner of your eye and the child drops the cup again. You think, Maybe I didn’t understand what this sweet, lovely child was doing. You say, No, no, don’t do that. Put the sippie cup right here. The child stares you straight in the eye and drops the sippie cup again, knowing exactly what it is doing, knowing that it is in some way disobeying, displeasing or defying you.
Maybe you have an 18-month-old. The big brother builds a sand castle at the beach. There is a gene of destruction that comes into an 18-month-old. He is just going to run into that castle and kick it down. You think, Why is my child doing this? It is because sin is in the world and because we are all affected by it. A child who has not yet been able to learn right from wrong already can express wrong.
Theologians often talk about original sin which is very exciting sounding or even worse sounding, total depravity, which is something that we want to stay away from. Total depravity does not mean that we are all perverted. Total depravity means that sin extends to every corner of life. Even my best days and even my best motives can be tainted by something that is wrong. Even my best love might somehow get twisted by the sin that is in the world. Sin is a power, and this power is at work in the world. God’s will is not always done and sin is a power at work.
Point No. 3. Sin even affects creation.
The text from Romans 8 talks about the fallenness of creation and how creation itself longs for redemption. Just like us, it somehow wants to be made at peace with God. It wants to end the decay that has taken place. The way I try to explain this is that creation is broken. It is broken and it does not express what God intended in the goodness of creation before sin came into the world. A perfectly good cell somehow goes haywire and becomes a melanoma or carcinoma or something else that will kill a person.
If a breeze or a needed rain gets twisted up out over the ocean, it becomes Katrina. If it is over land, it becomes an F-5 from hell that sweeps across the State of Alabama. Creation is broken. That is not what God intended. Jesus said that God did not intend for any of the little ones to perish. God’s will is for goodness. Sin is at work in the world. God’s will is not always done. Even creation collaborates with evil to work its dastardly best. If this is true, where is God in all this?
We always want to talk about God’s power and we want to invoke God’s power. We would like to think that, because we are Christians, we should benefit in some particular way from God and that God should put his hand down and protect us whether he protects anybody else or not. That really misses the point. What is it that God says to the prophet? My ways are not your ways. God’s power is best demonstrated in his love. God’s love is always cloaked in weakness.
Think about Jesus. We are Christians because we say Jesus is the best picture of God. Jesus is born in a stable and he comes among the poor. His ministry is to the lepers and to the people who are left out of life. They are the least and they are the last. Those are the people that he walks among. When he does miracles, it is not to wow people but it is to aid the despairing and to feed the hungry. He only does miracles to demonstrate God’s love.
When Jesus comes to Jerusalem, he enters on the lowliest of animals. Which one of us wants to ride on a donkey? He is there in humility. When he comes to Jerusalem, instead of overpowering his enemies, he yields to them. Instead of slaying the Romans which he could have done, he dies instead. God’s love is always cloaked in weakness. How else would we ever know God’s love?
Everybody has been watching the Royal wedding. How many times have we watched Will and Kate ride from Westminster Abby to Buckingham Palace? If you will note, every time they pass a band that is playing God Save the Queen, William in his uniform salutes and the dutiful bride bows her head in reverence to the crown. That is just the Queen of England. What if it were God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? How would we approach God to receive God’s love if it were demonstrated in the kind of power that we would chose to do it if we were God?
I found the following quote by Edmund A. Steimle for the sermon that I was going to preach today, and it was really the genesis for changing my mind today. He says, “So long as we begin with God’s power and try to use it in our behalf we inevitably try to become little gods ourselves.” We are always trying to use God’s power to benefit us. “But if we begin with Christ and see Christ as God’s promise to be with us no matter what, then we begin to know what faith—what trust in God’s power—really means: no miracles to pop us out of our problems, any more than a miracle saved our Lord from the cross; but a Resurrection as God’s Amen to Christ’s way of serving others with the assurance that God’s power is with us in whatever it may be that life throws up at us.”
The promise is not that we get protected. The promise is that God is always with us.
I want you to be conscious of your hands for just a moment. You do not have to lift them up. These are the hands of Christ, and the power of God’s love in all of its weakness is waiting for these hands to demonstrate the presence of God to people who have suffered in this past week.
These are the hands of Christ. These are good hands and God uses you to demonstrate the power of his love in the aftermath of such senseless tragedies brought about by the sin that is at work in the world. The bad thing is never the last thing. Thanks be to God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ who gives us hope.
 Steimle, Edmund A., God The Stranger, Reflections About Resurrection, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1979