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God: All-Loving. All-Powerful. All-Wise. Absent?

Antiheroes  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Series Review

We are finishing our series on antiheroes. Tomorrow morning will arrive at church, don our capes, dress up like comic book heroes and teach children about how we can be heroic in God. There are Bible characters who have heroic characters, but in the end God is the hero of the stories. When we look at the stories of the Bible it is hard to identify heroes because the people like Samson and Judas are imperfect, inept, insecure. People like Eve and Rahab are powerless, they have no ability to change the terrible realities in the world. So, in comes God to save the day.
That’s not the way we do things: if there is a problem we can’t solve, we look to the experts. God does the exact opposite. So if God is the hero, then why am I finishing this series focusing God as an antihero? Remember what an antihero is: they lack the qualities of a hero: Angry about injustice, their heart is broken when they see human suffering. A hero acts immediately: they swoop down and save the day. Can any of us honestly say that God is always like Superman, sweeps down and rescues us and puts the bad guys away?

Sermon Introduction

Years ago I was making preparations for a funeral service for a teenager, and met with his family including his grandfather. He said to me, “I was a long time member - I served on every committee you can think of, but I haven’t been in years. Of course I had to ask why, and he seemed eager to explain that twenty-five years ago his infant son died. Though he and his wife had gone on to have other children, but in his words he and God were no longer on speaking terms.
It was interesting to me how closely he had associated God with church. He wasn’t saying “I’m spiritual but not religious.” He wasn’t saying, “I’m now an atheist.” He had just cut off communication with God completely. He couldn’t pray anymore. It’s one thing to experience the devastation of losing a child - it’s even worse to feel completely abandoned by a loving and miracle working God.
Twenty-five years ago his infant son died. Though he and his wife had gone on to have other children, he and God were no longer on speaking terms.
Christians have long struggled with the “problem of evil.” How do you reconcile a loving and all powerful God with evil, pain and suffering? One way is to try to explain it:
1. Suffering can be the result of free human choices. God grants humanity free will, and often they often make bad, or even evil decisions. Our decisions can hurt others, or they come back to haunt us.
2. God can use suffering to make us stronger, to prepare us for discipleship. We read in Scripture that sometimes sometimes God allows suffering to happen to teach us and help us grow up.
3. God allows suffering, but one day God will execute justice and fairness on those who cause suffering. All rights will be wrong, but not now.
These are possibilities, but they do not explain all of our suffering. We still ask God, “Why?” They certainly don’t help us pray when our hearts are broken? When the events of our lives have turned us upside down and God has done nothing to prevent it or ease the pain. How can we pray when we are angry with God? When the One in whom we've put our trust no longer seems trustworthy?
Have you ever heard someone say that they haven’t prayed since 9/11? How do we pray when our hearts are broken? When the events of our lives have turned us upside down and God has done nothing to prevent it? How can we pray when we are angry with God? When the One in whom we've put our trust no longer seems trustworthy?
Have you ever heard someone say that they haven’t prayed since 9/11? How do we pray when our hearts are broken? When the events of our lives have turned us upside down and God has done nothing to prevent it? How can we pray when we are angry with God? When the One in whom we've put our trust no longer seems trustworthy?
This sermon is not about solving the problem of evil. Recently I watched an interview on You Tube with a seminary professor claiming to answer the question of “Why does God allow evil?” He explained it all. To him there was no mystery, and that really bothered me. Can we fully understand everything about God? So rather than try to solve the mysteries of God - I can’t - I want to wrestle with the question, “How do we pray to a God who watches us suffer?”

The attempt to defend God’s omnipotence and goodness in the face of the problem of evil in the world.

1. Evil is a natural repercussion of free human choices. Romans 2:3–5 explains how persons who practice evil do so out of the hardness of their hearts. While this approach does explain the evil actions caused by the evil choices of humans in the world, it does not explain every form of evil, such as painful deaths caused by natural events.

2. Evil may be used by God to help shape a believer and sanctify them further (1 Cor 9:24–27; Heb 12:3–13). Human suffering comes as God either directs or permits suffering to teach. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul states that God disciplines those He loves. As persons suffer, God is bringing about discipline and maturity in their lives. They must walk by faith to eventually understand what is happening.

3. Though evil may be carried out and performed, God will one day execute justice and fairness on all evildoers (John 14:1–3 and 2 Cor 4:16–18). The suffering in this world is small against the perspective of eternity. All suffering and wrongs will be righted at the end times when God will judge the world.

#2
Romans 5:1–5 NIV
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
I’m going to read a Psalm - Psalms are not just nice little poems, they are songs that were to be sung in worship. We have a hymnbook for the traditional service. We have a repertoire of songs on the computer in the AV booth. We have songs that fit certain occasions. Growing up in the church the hymnal was so revered that you would think the songs were written by God. One kid got a serious spanking for throwing one at his little brother.
The book of Psalms was the official hymn book of God’s people the Israelites. And there were songs for every occasion, including times of suffering.
The book of Psalms was the official hymn book of God’s people the Israelites. And there were songs for every occasion, including times of suffering. But they were also the authoritative Word of God. This song I’m about to read was written for a certain occasion: Israel was surrounded by enemies, facing destruction, and somehow they were supposed to call themselves God’s chosen people. That’s a serious dilemma.
Psalm 13 NIV
For the director of music. A psalm of David. 1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
There are 3 things that are happening in this song, that can help us pray when it’s hard to. Communicate with God when we’re feeling abandoned by God. David 1) Complains, 2) Prays, and he 3) Grows.

The prominence given to lament in the Psalms thus arises from Israelite identity as a covenanted community before God, surrounded by pagan nations and set in a hostile world. Evil threats abound from innumerable “enemies,” “the wicked,” national “foes,” even one’s own negative emotions

Complain (vv.1, 2)

Complain

Complaining is important to a relationship, right? Who would ever say, “I’m angry at my husband, but he’s my husband so I wont’ say anything.” You might say that about a supervisor at work, because there could be certain repercussions. But in an important relationship like marriage, you need to speak up. Communicate. Premarital counseling is starting fights before the marriage.
Yes, that’s right. We can complain to God. But for the right kinds of reasons. Not because of comfort or inconvenience. Not like a spoiled child who doesn’t receive instant gratification. We complain when our beliefs don’t seem to match up with reality - God loves us - love means being there; God is our protector - not letting others hurt us; God gives us wisdom - why do I not know what to do? Here are some examples of godly complaining:
our beliefs don’t match up with reality - God loves us - love means being there; God protects us - not letting others hurt us; God gives us wisdom - why do I not know what to do?
Why don’t you do something? How long are you going to sit there with your hands folded in your lap? - (The Message)
This is pretty honest talk. And its not just an Old Testament thing. Listen to Jesus from the cross:
Psalm 22:1 NIV
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
In John’s Gospel, we have an example of someone complaining to Jesus:
John 11:21 NIV
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Martha doesn’t play around, she’s upset with Jesus.
Her brother Lazarus has died andJesus finally arrives four days too late. They do not say, "Oh, Lord, we're glad you came. Isn't it a blessing? Lazarus has died, but he's now in a better place." No, it’s “if you had been here, this would not have happened.”
Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, two faithful disciples of Jesus, has died and has been in the tomb four days. When Jesus finally arrives on the scene, he is met individually by both Mary and Martha, who greet him with the same words, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." They do not say, "Oh, Lord, we're glad you came. Isn't it a blessing? Lazarus has died, but he's now in a better place." No, they hold Jesus accountable for what has happened. "Lord, if you had been here, our brother wouldn't have died."
How can they speak to Jesus this way? Because he was their friend. Because he was their Lord. Because they loved him and they knew he loved them, too. You could describe such conversations as a lover’s quarrel and they learned it from the psalmists.
But we should ask ourselves when we complain - to God or to people - what’s our purpose in complaining? to vent? to make a point? to say what’s on your mind? We should have better reasons than that. Our complaints should come out of a desire to strengthen a relationship. To reconcile a broken relationship. Same with God - we complain, but with a purpose - to communicate openly with God. Our complaints should lead us to pray, otherwise we don’t grow in our relationship with God. We become bitter towards God. We become lax in our prayer life. Godly complaining drives us to...
Good conflict or bad conflict? what was the goal? to vent? to make a point? to let your voice be heard? to say what is on your mind? or to reconcile? to rebuild. to restore;

Pray

Psalm 13:2–3 NIV
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
Psalm 13:3 NIV
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, in his book ‘Night,’ remembers an incident from his experience at Auschwitz, a Nazi extermination camp during World War 2: "Inside the kingdom of night I witnessed a strange trial. Three rabbis, all intelligent and pious men, indict God for having allowed his children to be massacred. This was an awesome assembly, particularly in view of the fact that it was held in a concentration camp. But what happened next is to me even more awesome still. After the trial at which God had been found guilty as charged, one of the rabbis looked at the watch which he had somehow managed to preserve in the kingdom of night and said, ‘Ah, it is time for prayers.' And with that the three rabbis bowed their heads and prayed."
How can we explain the actions of these men? How could they indict God one moment and offer prayer the next? Their conversation with God is a lover's quarrel. A marital spat. God refers to his people as his bride. Jesus refers to his church as his bride. When we read passages like , we can see that this quarrel happen again and again.
Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, in his book ‘Night,’ remembers an incident from his experience at Auschwitz, a Nazi extermination camp during World War 2: "Inside the kingdom of night I witnessed a strange trial. Three rabbis, all intelligent and pious men, indict God for having allowed his children to be massacred. This was an awesome assembly, particularly in view of the fact that it was held in a concentration camp. But what happened next is to me even more awesome still. After the trial at which God had been found guilty as charged, one of the rabbis looked at the watch which he had somehow managed to preserve in the kingdom of night and said, ‘Ah, it is time for prayers.' And with that the three rabbis bowed their heads and prayed."
How can we explain the actions of these men? How could they indict God one moment and offer praise and thanksgiving the next? One possible explanation in my mind is this: their quarrel with God is a lover's quarrel. When we read passages like , we can see that this quarrel has been revisited again and again since the early days of the relationship, when the people of God were first bound to their Creator in a covenant of love.
Notice that in this prayer in , David is giving God reasons why He should answer His prayer. We don’t think of prayer as an intellectual exercise, but David has carefully considered his situation, and is presenting a case before God.
Jesus does something similar.
Luke 22:42 NIV
42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
In this familiar garden of prayer, Jesus looked at what was about to happen to him and he was terrified. Everything in his human flesh wanted to flee the physical torture of crucifixion. He dreaded something far worse: the spiritual torture of being forsaken by God the Father.
Psalm 74:11 NIV
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
Jesus understands better than anyone how hard it can be for us to embrace the will of God. That’s a good thing: When Jesus calls us to follow him, whatever the cost, he is not calling us to do something he is either unwilling to do or has never done himself.
1-2: We can’t stay stuck in complaining, or we become bitter, or lose faith completely.
3-4: We can’t stay stuck in praying; we have to go further than that. ever heard someone say something like “I’ve prayed for a long time and it hasn’t done any good?” Even when we don’t get the answers we want, we can see the goodness of God.
even when “answers” don’t come, we can see the goodness of God.
can’t stay stuck in vv.3,4 (doubt when the preferred answer doesn’t come); need
Seeing the goodness of God is a sign of a mature faith. Seeing the goodness of God means we are growing up as believers. So the 3rd stage of David’s prayer is simply to Grow.

Grow

Psalm 13:5–6 NIV
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
This is not a burst of energy; not an “ah-ha” moment. He trusts God -he doesn’t say, “God, I know you are going to give me what I what, I’m just not sure how.” He trusts in the character of God. Specifically his unfailing love.
Years before I was married I learned the secret to being a good father - wrestling on the floor with them. I was training event and staying with a church family, and the father told me this. He said, “If I’m not doing that, what right do I have to discipline them? How can my children trust in my decisions they don’t understand or like?”
The claim I’m making here is that God is present and we can know it.
Is God present? Who has moved? Sometimes God withdraws his presence to strengthen us, like a parent steps back and lets us make mistakes (ex.?) (fence analogy - curfew, yes; laziness, allow); we distance when we are not praying, reading
Sometimes God withdraws his presence to strengthen us, like a parent steps back and lets us make mistakes (ex.?) (fence analogy - curfew, yes; laziness, allow); we distance when we are not praying, reading
trusting in God’s unfailing love; not unfailing comfort or unfailing making things easier for us; how many “unfailing relationships do you have?”
how many “unfailing relationships do you have?”
Prayers like can be ugly, messy prayers, they might even seem the opposite of what we think prayer is supposed to be. But keep this in mind:
How can we explain the shift in tone in the final verses of the psalm? How is it that the psalmist indicts God one moment and turns to God with praise and thanksgiving the next? Most likely, the change in the psalmist's tone comes as a result of the grace of God can. We cannot control this intervening, transforming work of God, but as the people of faith have learned over time, it happens only when we are willing to offer our true and honest selves to God in prayer.
It was often said about Vladimir Lenin early in his political career
It was often said about Vladimir Lenin early in his political career
Lenin - p.23, never set foot in a factory; Jesus got dirty; experienced our despair, wasn’t ashamed to pray these prayers, neither should we
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