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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A lot of people complain about God not doing certain things. I recently watched part of a George Carlin comedy routine where he talks about the fact that the world doesn’t look all that much like the work of a particularly talented or competent god. All the bad things in the world, all the destruction, all the death. So he decided that he would worship the sun, which came up every day and warmed him, and made him feel good. But he wasn’t going to pray to the sun; he was going to pray to Joe Pesci. He figured his success rate with Joe was about as good as his success rate with God—if He existed.
But what if—stick with me here—what if it wasn’t God who screwed up everything? What if the people criticizing God for messing things up are the very ones who did the messing up? Even so, I can see George’s point. If God is really in control and all-powerful, you’d think He’d be able to do a better job of preventing the evil of His creatures. It makes sense. If you think that God sits up in heaven, from where He made everything, and then He oversees it like a bad landlord, you’d come to the same conclusion as George. Unfortunately for him, he’s now proven the truth of the psalmist’s words: all people give up their spirits and return to the earth, and all their thoughts and plans perish with them (Psalm 146:4).
Honestly, though, the end of this psalm and a lot of the promises in the Scriptures present us with a dilemma. The God who made everything “executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry; Yahweh sets the prisoners free; Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind; Yahweh lifts up those who are bowed down; Yahweh loves the righteous; Yahweh watches over the sojourners, upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin; Yahweh will reign forever” (146:6-10). But it’s easy to look around at all the ways that those things are not happening, how it appears as if God is indeed the landlord of the earth whom you can’t get on the phone in an emergency, an absentee God who sits incompetently at a heavenly distance.
What is the truth of the matter? The psalmist asks the question: in whose hands do you want your future, your hope, and your salvation? Are you going to put your faith in human leaders, which a lot of people are apparently content to do? How’s the human track record for getting things solved? Or are you going to put your faith in the God who made everything? Looking around, you or I or George might be tempted to call it a draw and pray to Joe Pesci instead. He seems like a guy who gets things done.
But all of this judging of appearances and the sort of speculation that wonders what God’s up to brackets out the only human evidence that God has done something about all the death, destruction, mayhem, and horror that has been produced within this creation. It brackets out the only human evidence for a salvation that lasts beyond a person’s last breath and the turning to dust of his bones. It brackets out the only human evidence for God’s action on behalf of all the people for whom the psalmist claims He has acted.
John the Baptist, in fact, wasn’t too far away from George Carlin’s questions, though without the profanity. He had, at the bottom of it all, the same concern about God in the world, though he still expected the Messiah, even if it wasn’t Jesus. And hear again what Jesus told John: Go and tell George—sorry, John—what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them (Matthew 11:4-6).
Whether it’s Psalm 146 or Isaiah 35 or Isaiah 61, the promises are always the same: when God comes to the earth, all the broken things will be restored, sin will be done away with, and death will disappear. Jesus says that all those things have been accomplished in Himself. He does those things on a small scale as the Sign that He is that God in the flesh, and He Himself is raised from the dead to prove it. He hands over His renewing and recreating Spirit to His creatures, and He breathes His last, and He returns to the ground from which His flesh was taken. But He does not stay in that grave, and His plans do not perish, because He is the salvation of God.
Behold, your God. He is the one through whom all things were made, and He alone guards the truth and faithfulness of what He has done into eternity. In Him is justice for the oppressed, and even justice for the those who are against Him; in Him is the food for the hungry that they may eat and never die; in Him is freedom for the prisoners, as John discovered; in Him is sight and lifting up and the safety of the sojourner, the widow, and the fatherless. Sometimes He gives us temporary evidence of that in this creation; sometimes He does not. And if the center of God’s truthfulness was not in the crucified and risen Jesus, I would go along with George Carlin.
But the Jesus who was born of the Virgin, who healed the sick and raised the dead, who suffered and died Himself, who was raised Himself, and who reigns forever at the right hand of the Father, is the God who will soon show to every eye what He accomplished in His own body on the earth. Blessed is he whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in Yahweh his God. There is no salvation in princes, or human hands, or Joe Pesci. Salvation is found in Him whose name means Yahweh’s salvation. In Him we will trust; we will praise Him as long as we have life and breath in this creation; and then we will praise Him forever in the next.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/17/19