My sermon for today was based on Luke 13:1-9.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded individual who can converse with a pretty broad spectrum of people who hold different theologies than my own, but I have to admit that there is at least one theology that I can't converse with because I actually find it offensive. That is the theology of the Evil God.
This theology sounds like this: "There was an earthquake in Haiti because God hates Haitians" or "There was a shooting in Texas because God hates Texans" or, a little closer to home, "My wife/father/daughter got cancer because she is a sinner and God is angry at her".
I really hope I don't need to explain why this so offensive, but I will, just in case.
First of all, this theology implies that God is capable of hatred. This in and of itself negates any validity this theology might otherwise have.
Second, this theology leads to the inescapable conclusion that God is merely a puppet-master who moves every person and indeed every molecule in the universe whither he will, thereby negating any possibility of free will.
Third and worst of all, and what should offend every person of faith is the further inescapable conclusion of this theology that God is, in fact, the author of all evil acts in the world, whether they be man's inhumanity to man or a natural disaster.
By necessity according to this theology, God is, in fact, evil.
Far from it, God is the embodiment of all that is good, loving, merciful and just in the world. Evil happens because there are simply random catastrophes or because one human being chooses to do evil to another. Despite the fact that the ancient Judaism of Jesus' time seems to have ascribed to the idea that if evil befell you, it was the will and action of God who was punishing you for your sin, Jesus and his disciples after him rebuked this notion, demonstrating instead this God of love to us. Today's Gospel passage is a perfect example of this.
The Gospel begins with Jesus chastising people who are ascribing two disasters in particular to the action of God, one being a tower falling and killing 18 people, the other being Pilate's order to slaughter a group of Galileans while they were at worship.
In reference to both of these events, Jesus retorts, "Do you think they were worse sinners than anybody else? No, but unless you repent, you will perish in the same way". It is debatable, but this implies to me that Jesus believes random stuff happens and people inflict evil on others of their own free will, but this is not God's will or action.
Far from it, it would seem that God gives people chance after chance to repent based on the parable Jesus tells about the fig tree. In this parable, the image used is that of a fig tree that is not bearing fruit, and so the landowner tells his gardener to cut it down. His gardener implores the landowner to give him a chance to turn the soil around the roots and give it some fertilizer in the hopes that it will bear fruit next year. The landowner relents.
The most obvious way to interpret this passage is that we are the tree, God is the landowner and Christ is the gardener who appeals to God to give us another chance, and God does. Despite the fact that the parable begins with a God who is prepared to cut us off, it ends with a God is willing to forgive.
So what would it mean to repent? Why would we bother, if God's love and tolerance are endless? Why wouldn't we just do whatever we wanted if we are assured that God will never cut us off?
The problem is one of sin. Before you stop reading, I am aware that "sin" is not a popular concept for a number of people because typically sin is understood to be "those things that we do that make God angry". Many of us reject the notion of an angry God as much we reject the concept of an evil God, and so the concept of sin finds little traction, but the reality is that God or not, sin damages our lives thanks to free will and the gift of a conscience.
Think of it. When we lie, steal, cheat, or do anything else that has been typically understood as sin, we actually feel bad. We feel guilt, shame, remorse. We know we made the choice to do something bad, we can't blame the devil for it, and we feel bad as a consequence. No God is even required for us to feel bad.
When we sin, I honestly do not think that God removes his grace from us and makes bad things happen to us. If that were the case, buildings would be falling on daesh left, right and center. But the operative concept is that we actually remove ourselves from grace by sinning.
I think that God wants for us only what we want for ourselves: for us to live a joyful, happy, loving life. When we sin, we diminish our capacity to do so. The truly wonderful thing is that no matter how far we fall away from this center of grace in which we are fulfilled and at peace, we can always turn back and make our way back.