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Free to…


The doctor’s wife said, “If it were in my hands I would really take vengeance on my adversaries. Why does God spare them so?”

The doctor replied, “If God were to do everything with his might, where would that leave his wisdom and his goodness? Accordingly he overlooks many things so that his wisdom and goodness may become known in our weakness. It will turn out well.” – Martin Luther, “Table Talk, No. 5059: Why God Sometimes Winks at Wrong,” June 11, 1540.

If there is a single most popular complaint that folks have about God’s management of the cosmos, it seems to be this: “Why doesn’t God just step in and stop this (war, storm, murder, hunger, poverty – insert the tragedy du jour here)?”

I’m thinking that there is a two-part answer to this question.

The first part of that answer is also a question: “What are you doing to help alleviate the situation?” This response assumes, of course, that we have both the responsibility and the resources for appropriate intervention…something I’m convinced we usually do possess, even if it seems small in comparison to the problem at hand. For example, we may not be able to keep a dam from bursting or a warlord from stealing food meant for refugees. But we can help clean up the mess and provide needed shelter and supplies for folks whose homes have been inundated. We can provide more food to replace what was stolen. We can work with other governments and organizations to bring dictators to justice. We can even choose to go stand alongside the persecuted. It’s fundamental to our baptism: All of us are called; all of us are gifted; all of us have some means of response.

But exercising those means requires a hearty acceptance of the second part of this answer: God has given us the power to choose…the ability to freely respond to the world around us in ways that reflect God’s own reconciling love for us. This power is fundamental to the nature of our humanity…even to what it means to be made in the image of God. I would concede that fully exercising the human will in accordance with God’s will is not possible. Simul justus et peccator still rings true. Nor will it prevent earthquakes or bad government in a creation that, also broken, cries out in its bondage to decay. But we are not without recourse while we “await the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Thanks, Paul.) We have the joyful knowledge of a new creation…already manifest in Jesus’ resurrection, already seen in the first fruits of the Spirit’s work in the world and in us.

Faith tells us that this is true. And because we can trust this truth about God’s dogged intent for the reconciliation of all things, we have the freedom to act already…anticipating that day when the vision of God becomes at last the life of the world. Which means, of course, that when we ask why God won’t just step in and change things, we must recognize that God has, does and will continue to do just that…to step in through the lives of all those holy ones who discover that their call and gift is nothing less than to live in the freedom of God’s intent for us and for the world.


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