I must admit that as I entered into last Sunday’s service, I had lofty expectations. I know that Pastor Nate’s message is titled Give More, and my inner advocate for social justice is ready for the hard hitting, no-holds-barred assault on self-centered “me”-ism. I am anticipating a focus on charity and a good Christmas-themed giving message.
As the teaching begins, things are progressing nicely. God is a giver of good gifts. Amen. He gave humanity his greatest gift, his son, Jesus. Got it. The world is full of evil and awful things. Wait… what? Did I miss something? Are we really going to tackle the problem of how a good God allows evil to happen… in a Christmas message? I am ready for a comfortably predictable talk about helping the less fortunate. This is bit much!
The question of evil has plagued the minds of mankind for our entire collective history. It is no doubt fresh in the minds of many as recent events in the news continue to showcase human suffering. While unexpected, a message like this could not be more timely.
How can a good and loving God allow so much suffering in the world? I have heard the question asked, and I have heard several people attempting to answer. Outspoken atheists take to Twitter to ask “Where is your god now?” while members of the Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates America” group) proclaim, “God sent the shooter.” With all of these competing and confusing voices, we are in need of some clarity.
We believe that God is good and is the giver of good gifts. We acknowledge that we are sinful and fallen. Despite our sinful and fallen state, God continues to bless us with gifts. Evil is a result of the collective sin of mankind. We continue to do what we think is best, instead of following God. But, contrary to what the Westboro folks would have us believe, God is not angrily smiting mankind for one or two specific sins. God is still good and is still the giver of good gifts.
So how does all of this fit into Christmas? When we see suffering around us, our tendency is to feel hopeless. It is in that hopelessness that we can find hope. God gave us the gift of Jesus. That is the essence and message of Christmas. We were hopeless, and we received the gift of hope.
I did not hear the predictable Christmas sermon about giving that I expected to hear on Sunday. I suppose my lofty expectations were set a little low. But any time I can get some answers to one of life’s major questions, I’ll take it!
Blog entry by: Jeff Hyson