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Doing the Wrong Thing December 22, 2012

Posted by peterong in Uncategorized.


“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If however, you want to look at stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it nor demand it.” —Annie Dillard

When faced with the unspeakable tragedies like that of Sandy Hook Elementary, we are struck with a variety of voices and it is the ones who strike deepest for me are those posed by those who are directly and deeply affected. Then there are those who are on the periphery who are deeply impacted with great empathy and reach out to a suffering community. Then there the cacophony of voices who seem so removed they use the occasion to either inspire or bring a decline in thoughtful discussion who God is in the midst of tragedy.

What we think and believe about God really matters. Because in what we think and believe about God will give us a framework of how we confront such profound and difficult questions. It affects us all. No single person is immune to it.

On these occasions, God shows up in some profound ways in the expressions of faith and in some very subtle ways. But God gives us a hint, a very profound hint about the nature of God.

In our church experiences, we often hear from the survivors of great pain and use the language of “praise the Lord” for bringing a person into safety. If God gets praise for the person in safety, then He should also get praise for the casualties? This often brings such confusion and agitation.

We question, was it a sin of a nation or a sin of the forefathers, but on examination of the Gospels, Jesus looks at those who suffer, he sees their affliction, while other religious leaders see an exercise in doctrinal implications, Jesus just sees a broken person who needs to healed and tethered to community. Today, we still have that same echo of people giving judgement instead of Christ.

What I am struck by the nature of the incarnation is that the Creator became one of us, he came down to “tabernacle” with us, and his reign was defined by a different kind of expression of power. I think that God was intimately there when suffering happens and what makes it even so much more powerful is He experienced suffering and is familiar and could empathize with us.

An examined and honest follower would say, that we have systematically excluded God in our hearts on each breathe, and each turn of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we may not have prayer in schools, but don’t have prayer in our homes. If we think that it is our government sanctions a hostile environment for Christ, then we have to examine our own lives and how we have made our own sanctions that is hostile to God. It is this reason, that our call to confession and assurance of pardon is to central to to our discipleship. It is the convergence of the confession and assurance that points us to the cross.

In our distorted discipleship, we have made the ultimate goal to make Christian people happy and comfortable. Instead making the ultimate goal of making people Christians who are holy and confronted. It is evident our counsel and in our humanistic tendencies that have permitted and tolerated idols of power, money, sex and the cycle continues each day of our lives. We say we are under “attack” so we have to respond and that we need a nation who needs an allowance of prayer in school but I suspect that it  will not remedy our deepest drift from desiring God but this kind of prayer would be an underlying idolatry of wanting power, to have control and to make a change of our circumstances but not our hearts.

Can you imagine a world that God consistently punish evil and reward good? That there was conclusive measures of how God treated evil and good; imagine a world when every time someone lies, there is a jolt of pain in their tongue or whenever someone reads the apostle’s creed with sincerity, there is a release of profound pleasure? Then God would not be unlike a great expert in behavior modification.

School in Prayer equals Blessings. Leave the Ten Commandments in the Courts equals Blessings. Take those away? well, then the curses flow down!

There was an experiment like this in the days of Moses and also of Joshua and Judges. There was a direct correlation to the obedience of God’s people and presence or blessings of God. But it didn’t not lead the Israelites towards obedience, quite the opposite. It lead to anarchy that was punctuated by fear and rebellion; it was a disintegration of their worship of God. Clear guidance was a poor substitute for what they really needed…faith.

Faith that God is present among us. A personal appearance.

As we celebrate Christmas, we acknowledge that a baby arrived over 2,000 years ago and this child, Jesus gave his presence to us. His name was Jesus but also Immanuel. And one of the gifts of the Magi to this child and his family was myrrh…myrrh was used for embalming the dead. It was a great foreshadow of this baby’s mission to die upon the cross.

The hint of in times of tragedy is not to know the “why of God” in the tragedy but the “who of God” in the tragedy. Jesus took on tragedy. He became a tragedy for us.

“But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one… And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: ‘I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?’ Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.” Tim Keller

“Where was God?” was a question that left the lips of our Christ our savior on the cross and as he quoted Psalm 22, and asked “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?” and he showed the answer, God was there on the cross. The ultimate judge became judgement for us.  Christ, the son of God took on a humiliating death to take on the full brunt of payment for the sin of the world. Not to punish those who have transgressed against him but to bring forth a way, a truth and the life of his presence and salvation. For God didn’t know come to condemn the world but to save it. But we have a God who knows the pain of loss.

God is trustworthy because He is a fulfillment of a promise and He promises to come again to renew the whole earth. But his renewal is not distant. He promised Immanuel, his presence so that he is vulnerable to us. He didn’t remain immune to us. He let us break him. It is in the midst of such darkness, that God shines most brightly because he became one with the sufferers.

So, to those voices who insist that this is a judgment on our nation and this is the punishment, I humbly say that I do not know his explicit will and judgement. But what I do know explicitly is that God is the only judge and that judgement was shown upon the shadow of the cross we see his will and judgement upon his beloved son. To suffer at great lengths and depths of the cross. I beg the question…are we implying that the cross was not enough punishment? That somehow God needs to supplement what was done on the cross?

The question we ask “Where was God?” and throughout the words of the prophets in the midst of Israel’s calamity, God would return the question, “where were you?” among the suffering? Jesus was entwined with the sufferers of his day. He touched many of them. Walked miles to fellowship with them.  So when we state so boldly spoke about how a society has “systemically removed God?”  Our bold response is that God has given the church and his followers an excellent and good way to be God’s hands and feet. To be his tears and also his comfort. To be his body to a world so broken and also his lips to proclaim the good news of Christ.

In the words of a good friend of mine, “we as Christians are called to take the cross for others, not to build crosses for others to die on” Let us consider the gospel and let us see that the gospel is not an occasion for triumphalism but an occasion for us to be Christ-like, to be sacrificial. To suffer on behalf of others. To take the blame that we are part and complicit in this broken world. As the great and wise CK Chesterton wrote in response to an article soliciting a response to the question “What is wrong with the world?” he responded “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”


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