Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Letting God Be God

In the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve committed the original sin—they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, they wanted to be able to judge what is right and what is wrong for themselves.

The story of Cain and Abel takes that original sin up a notch: Cain decided not just what was good or evil but who was good and who was evil.

We just don’t seem to be able to learn, do we?

I’m talking about people in general, just to make it clear that no one group of people have cornered the market on this one. But having said that, it sure seems like religious people are striving for a greater market share than anyone else.

If some people can seem wishy-washy when it comes to relativizing ethics, religious people err the opposite way. They not only claim that there are absolutes but that they absolutely know what they are. Just ask them.

Jesus once told a parable about this. He said that a man sowed his seed with good seed, but during the night an enemy snuck into the field and sowed weed seed amongst the good seed. So when the good grain started growing, there was a bunch of weeds all mixed up with them. The farmer’s workers asked him if he wanted them to go out and pull up all the weeds, but he said no. The weeds were so intermingled that they would pull up the roots of the good plants when they were pulled out of the ground. “Wait until the harvest,” he said, “and then it will be easy and safe to separate them.”

We need to listen to Jesus on this one. He’s telling us a number of things. First, we aren’t so good at telling the wheat from the weeds, the good from the bad. In fact, we’re pretty bad at it. It’s not so easy to say, “We’re the good, they are the bad.” (Notice, no one says, “We’re evil, and they’re good.” However we decide where the line between good and evil is, we’re always on the good side of the line.) Sometimes—most of the time—only God can distinguish. We ought to let God be God, and stick to the things we can do well.

Second, in the Kingdom of God collateral damage is not accepted. When humans wage war against each other, the number of non-combatant civilian casualties is extraordinarily high—it’s almost a 1:1 ratio. How can that be at all acceptable? (If you don’t believe me, Google “WWII Civilian Casualties” and see what you come up with.) When we try to root out evil violently, we end up rooting out much that is good and innocent as well, and this is unacceptable in the Kingdom of God.

Third, the line between good and evil is hard for humans to distinguish, not the least because it runs through each of us. There aren’t good people and bad people. The image of God still lives in the worst of us, and the sin of Cain lives in the best of us. Only God can see where the line truly runs. Once again, can we be content to let God be God?

Let me try out a radical statement: maybe the whole idea of destroying evil is misguided. In creating light, God defined darkness; you can’t have one without the other. Declare something to be good (love) is to automatically declare what is not good (hate, apathy, cruelty). Maybe Jesus didn’t come to destroy evil as much as to expose it, transcend it and render it impotent.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. led that crowd of 600 civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettis Bridge, which led to a bloody beating of many of the marchers at the hands of the Selma, AL police, he exposed the evil forces behind the racism in this country. By not meeting force with force, violence with violence, he transcended it. And when a nation watched in horror and disgust the images that played on their TV’s, he rendered it impotent.

This is among the many things that Jesus accomplished on the cross. He exposed the evil of the political and religious forces of his day, he transcended them, and rendered them impotent. Once his followers understood what he was doing and followed suit, albeit after the resurrection, the Roman Empire couldn’t stop them, not even by throwing them to the lions. That’s the power of truly following Jesus.

We may not be good at deciding if someone else is wheat or weed, but that’s not our job. Our job is to follow Jesus. If you’re wheat, that’s you job. The rest is God’s responsibility. Let God be God.

1 comment:

  1. We may not be good at deciding if someone else is wheat or weed, but that’s not our job. Our job is to follow Jesus. If you’re wheat, that’s you job. The rest is God’s responsibility. Let God be God.

    Isn't that the real theme of the book of Job? Somehow Job knew that he was OK with God, albeit blindly. But his three friends and the one expert all developed rationales to prove that Job had a big problem, sin.

    Only Job was willing to let God be God, so starting at Chapter 38 God let him have it.