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The evil that God does

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Mattins)


Do you know the difference between good and evil?


We like to think so, don’t we? We know the Ten Commandments and that idolatry is evil and adultery is evil and stealing is evil, et c. However, we also know that the Lord Himself has a habit of showing us up. If we are angry with someone without good cause then we are murdering them in our hearts. If a man lusts after a woman then he is committing adultery with her in his heart. It’s clear that good and evil aren’t as clear cut as we think they are, and that’s our problem.


Can God do evil? It would appear that the Prophet Amos thinks He can!

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?

[PAUSE]


It’s verses like that that often give people a reason to think that God is a monster but it’s worth trying to understand what Amos is saying here. What is this evil in the city? Other translations have the word “disaster” instead of “evil”. We human beings tend to think of disasters as being a natural evil. Indeed, people like Stephen Fry have used natural disasters to show why they believe that, if God exists, then He is a nasty piece of work.


Perhaps you have seen that piece of film of the baby iguana being chased by snakes. You watch as it scrabbles over rocks as snake upon snake upon snake lashes out hoping to grab the little lizard. How you breathe a sigh of relief when it escapes their clutches! But why did you take the iguana’s side?


Look at it the other way. Think of the starving snakes desperate for some food. They need to eat to stay alive. Here is an opportunity of food and they all seek to grab it. And they fail. Those snakes have to face another day with the pain of hunger.


So which is good and which is evil?


The poor snake has been tarred with being evil because it is dangerous to human beings and because the Devil disguised himself as one.


Perhaps God is evil for making animals behave like this in the first place. If animals didn’t eat each other, everything would be okay.


And here we face a bit of a problem. God loves us and the Cross of Christ proves that. His creation is Good even if we find it hard to stomach sometimes. But that’s the problem – we’re the ones calling it evil, not God. The lightning is terrifying, but it’s not evil. The lion and the gazelle are both glorious examples of God working through evolution and we perceive their beauty. We may not understand wasps, slugs, spider, scorpions, snakes or tapeworms, but a careful study of them shows how perfectly designed for their environment they are.


God’s creation is good. Water is our life, but we can drown in it. Fire keeps us warm, but it can burn us. Things that keep us alive and happy can hurt and kill us. God’s good creation can be used to harm us.


When a city is flooded, God is responsible only in the sense that He makes water do what water does. Whose responsibility is it for building the city where it can be flooded? If a small child dies of starvation in Somalia, God is responsible only in the sense that He created us to need food. Whose responsibility is it that this child has to live in poverty in Somalia in the first place? There will be hotter summers and colder winters under Global Warming. More people will find it difficult to live. God is responsible only for the way that weather follows the laws of physics. Whose responsibility is it that Global Warming started at the same time as the Industrial Revolution?


[PAUSE]


Human beings have to take some responsibility for the disaster that befalls them, and this is precisely what the Prophet Amos is telling us. Rejecting God is bad for our health. Living in a way that dishonours God has consequences for us – in our language it looks like punishment for our sins but this punishment comes simply from the consequences of our actions.


Our Lord Himself tells us that the people killed by a falling tower are not receiving a result of their personal sins. However, the law of gravity says that towers fall and the way that the tower was built clearly had a weakness. The builders have to take responsibility of their failings.


The evil in human society is a consequence of the Evil that infects human nature. Often we are unconscious of the wrong that we do. If we buy cheap clothes then we could be funding modern slavery. If we don’t dispose of plastic safely then we could be contributing to the destruction of ocean life, and thus all life on this planet.


[PAUSE]


This all sounds very depressing and human beings do have a lot of responsibility to take for the state of the planet. However, the point is that we have a Saviour who promises that all things will be made new – new heavens and a new earth – and that we ourselves will be made new. That doesn’t mean that we should forget about things as they are now. We are still affected by the consequences of the human race even if we are not personally directly responsible. We need to show our love for neighbour by being active, reducing poverty, ending oppression, and, above all, showing the love of God in our lives trusting that all things are possible with God.


Just as the sea is made turbulent by waves, so is our human life made turbulent by all our sins. If we live according to the will of God then we bring with us the One Who calms the storm just by being in the same boat as us. By returning to God and obedience to Him, we become instruments of His Peace and do our Fallen World some good.


In the face of the disasters in life, St Paul has these words for all who turn to God:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.



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