November 6, 2011 Does God Care?
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Psalm 10 1 Thes. 4:13-18 Matthew 5:1-12
A bird came down the walk,
he didn’t know I saw;
he bit an angle worm in half
and ate the fellow raw.
Emily Dickinson, In the Garden. Author dispassionately observes reality of garden life, birds eat worms, just the way it is. Strikes me as one possible image of God, dispassionately observing reality of world, raises question of today’s psalm – Does God Care?
Psalm 10, continuation of Psalm 9, however there is a profound shift in tone – Psalm 9 ends in confidence, 10 begins with complaint, lament, speaks of seeming indifference of God in face of wrongs suffered by righteous. Common ground for complaint, so much so that phrase “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” formula to introduce a lament (psalm 13, 22, 31, 42, 43). Where Psalm 9 was a psalm of orientation, God is in heaven all is right with world, Psalm 10 is psalm of disorientation – where is God? Why is God far off?
Psalm asks God, why are you hiding? Where are you? Common cry in times of trouble, then lists all of the problems in society. As one commentary states: “poet then proceeds to inveigh for twelve verses against a society in which the ruling class is unscrupulous, cruel, God-neglectful, and apparently prosperous. Bitterness against the rich pervades every verse, and vivid images are piled one upon the other to describe a condition of lawlessness in which the prosperous are ravenous animals and the poor are their victims.” This could easily be the lament of the occupy Wall Street movement, or occupy Jerusalem?
Vs. 2 – in arrogance wicked hotly pursued the poor – how like the wall street brokers and bankers who arrogantly pursue money with no thought to how it might affect people, or Enron executives who grew rich off the backs of the rank and file who lost their retirement, or any of those who accumulate more and more money without thought to the “99%” who go without so they can have in excess; who perceive themselves as worthier than others and so deserving of so much more; who took bailouts paid for by the government, meaning us. “Let them be caught in the schemes which they have devised” – let them be caught in their own web of deceit, be found out and receive the punishment they deserve, let the punishment fit the crime, as happened to Bernie Madoff who lost all his ill gotten gain
Vs. 3-4 – wicked go on in their pride – they boast about their possessions, as if that makes them better than others, they make themselves their own god, claiming “there is no God.” If there is no God then they feel they are justified in taking what they can in this life.
Vs. 5 – the wicked appear to prosper, see that the rich get richer on the backs of the poor, they come out of Wall street bail-out unscathed while economy suffers
Vs. 6 – foolishly he thinks nothing can happen to him, he puffs at his foes, blows smoke at them, thinking they cannot harm him – famous last words. “Throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity” – ask the Bernie Madoff’s of the world about this. Ultimate foolishness that comes from pride, false pride, which goest before a fall
Vs. 7-9 – strong words/images – proud, wicked, compared to beasts of prey who see poor as their rightful prey, targets to devour
10-11 – shifts to those poor caught in the nets of the wicked – they too can feel like there is no God or that God is hiding. Funny how pride and poverty can result in the same faulty logic – that there is no God, hear ultimate words of despair – “God will never see it.”
12-15 – Psalm shifts, hear words/thinking of the writer, previously he was reflecting words of the wicked and the wretched, now we hear where he stands in the face of so much pain and oppression. He calls upon God, asking him to raise his hand against those who are wicked, against words of wicked who claim God will not call them to account. He affirms that, yes, God does see what’s going on and God will respond; he calls upon God to break the arm of the wicked, destroy their wickedness.
16-18 he then ends with words of confidence – God is King, God is in charge, God hears and responds.
Moving from disorientation to a new orientation, despair to trust.
Joshua – renewal of covenant, Joshua wanted to make sure people knew what they were doing, that God doesn’t take his covenant lightly, nor should they. This is not a contract they can easily break and get out of, it’s a life-long commitment. Joshua warns them in vs. 19-20 “You may not be able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins If, after the good he has done for you, you forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, he will do evil to you and destroy you.” See this in psalm vs. 14 when poet affirms that God sees and will take matters into own hand – as Paul says in Hebrews 10:31 -“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Yes, it is for those who are proud, wicked, and do not follow God’s commands, can be a fearful thing; Hebrew people would do well to take note of this and not enter covenant lightly. However for those who are poor, dispossessed and suffering, it is good to fall into the hands of the living God.
Gospel reading, beatitudes, Jesus tells us: blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure of heart, peacemakers, those who hunger for justice, those who are persecuted for righteousness. As always, God’s words comfort the poor and afflicted, disturb the proud and mighty.
What does this say to us today? Chances are there have been times in your own life when you felt God did not care, when you looked at the world situation, our struggling economy, all of the evils and wrongs in this world and wondered – where is the justice? Where is God? God may pose the same question to us – what are we doing? Where is justice? Why do we allow the wicked to prosper?
Some, when confronted with evil in the world can question – is there a God and if so, why doesn’t he do anything? May question whether God is good? These are fundamental questions of faith, faith that each of us need to wrestle with, no easy answers. Even the great theologian, C.S. Lewis, in the depths of pain at the death of his wife, questioned “did God care?’ or were we just some rats in the laboratory of life?
Funny how the logic of the wicked and the wretched both lead to not believing in God, the one because of pride, the other because of poverty. I recently read an article with a study that claimed that people made up God. The study looked at the innate need in infants for relationships to humans and to something greater than ourselves and so, they claimed, we made up God to satisfy this need. Funny – they didn’t consider that the reverse might also be true, that we need God because God created us and put within us the desire to know Him and love Him.
No easy answers, however there is hope for those who believe. We have hope in the resurrection as Paul tells us, that this life is not all there is, that the wicked will not always prevail, that there will be a day of reckoning, and God will hear the cries of the poor and those who are in pain. God hears us, even now, every minute. If our God seems far off, it is not because God has moved away from us, but our own faulty, limited abilities to see God as God is.
Writer of psalm raises the basic questions of faith and answers them: Yes, God hears, God does care. God cares so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, who reaffirm God’s great love for God’s people. God hears us when we cry to him and he will turn our lamenting into joy if we put our trust in him.
copyright November 2011