COLUMN: Creators of good in a broken world

Published 6:16 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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I don’t have to work hard to convince most of us that we live in an imperfect world, do I? One way or another, we each get a turn sooner or later, don’t we?

The disappointment shows up, and it’s got your name on it. The abandonment or betrayal happens by someone you’d have never suspected. The question that can’t be answered suddenly matters to you. The force of nature, or evil, does something that overwhelms.

We don’t live in the Garden of Eden, do we? Yet, in setting up this week’s message, we must acknowledge that life so often is good. A friend of mine rolled up to pay for her breakfast the other day, and the person at the window told her that the car ahead of her, a stranger, had randomly paid for her order, too. Life is good.

My sister-in-law, who was in the hospital when we left town for vacation, was able to ride out into the country with my brother and check on their cow that they bought a couple of years ago. Life is good. We have a new neighbor in town who seems like Franklin is a cool place. She’s having a ball discovering people and places. Life is good.

In Isaiah 40: 21-31, the prophet has experienced his life in God’s ongoing creation. God is still working at creating, and therefore, pain, suffering, disappointment, and despair are all possible in an incomplete and imperfect world.

As people will, though, many of us hold the desire for peace, happiness and goodness as what we think is life’s default. We think of those conditions as the way things ought to be at all times. A happy backdrop in front of which we try to live our lives. So when tough times come, we want to be returned to happiness through the quickest means possible.

In Isaiah 40, the prophet gives voice to God’s instruction. There will be no shortcuts to peace and stability. No quick fixes for their exile and occupation. Instead, they have a choice to make.

They can give in and place their trust in the Babylonian gods and the pagan systems of the Roman Empire. Or, they can reaffirm their trust in Yahweh God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But trust in God will not promise any quick yields.

They hear that in God, there is a future. But in fairness, Isaiah’s readers didn’t get any detail as to when and how that hopeful future would unfold. So, like all people of faith, their decision was one they could make only.

We look around and somehow notice that narcissistic, misogynistic behavior is getting rewarded more than we would have ever dreamed. Russia can bully Ukraine and there’s no fast way to make it stop.

Just when our faith-filled logic would suggest that people need a good church now, more than ever, the cultural trends show the opposite. Nationwide, people are fleeing the Church in numbers that we haven’t seen in generations.

Israel can be baited back into thousands of years-old war by outsiders, and even the clearest solutions are so complicated that they seem unlikely. This is a challenging world. We just want to feel better fast.

The triumphs of human achievement have compounded over time like so much intellectual capital. We have mastered scientific matters, structural challenges and have become a powerful collection of world civilizations.

You know what humankind has learned from all these amazing advancements? We’ve learned that life is big and we are still small. We’ve learned that our world has forces that remain beyond our control, and probably always will.

If we have any spiritual clarity about our universe, we have also learned that God is God, and we are not. We want our world to be a good one, and no one seems to have even an experimental, topical analgesic salve that we can simply rub on all of life’s troubles. No quick fixes in sight for God’s faithful.

Ahhh, but our Christian season of Lent approaches. We’ll be reminded of all Jesus did soon, including his suffering and hardship as God’s Son. Eventually, as Nadia Bolz-Weber says so beautifully, Good Friday will come.

Then, she suggests that we’ll actually enter into the difference between God and humanity and touch it for a moment. Properly humbled, we can then join God as creators of good in a broken world.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.