Luke 13: 1-5
One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo. There’s a scene in it, about 2/3 of the way through the movie, where Marlin, the father clownfish has joined in traveling with a group of sea turtles using the East Australian Current to travel faster. At one point, Marlin, who is wound rather tight about his one remaining son, sees one of the baby turtles fall out of the current. He predictably gets very agitated about rescuing the baby, but is held back by the turtle’s father, Crush. “Wait”, Crush says. “Let’s see what young Squirt will do.”
Squirt finds himself outside the current, analyzes the situation, and swims back into the current, all on his own. He is greeted by his father, who praises his skills, but the bigger lesson is for Marlin, who realizes that people cannot grow unless they learn for themselves.
I have had occasion this week, through two funerals, to think about God and the way in which we die.
There was not much in common between the two men. Not even their church was the same, and neither attended either church in this charge.
When we get to a certain age, we have seen death. We have seen circumstances that have been heartbreaking, we have perhaps been glad, in our secret hearts, to see others die. We have seen those whose passing has been a blessing, for they have been in pain, and death releases them from that tyranny. We have seen car accidents take the lives of young and old alike. We have mourned the passing of national figures such as astronauts, presidents, and movie stars. We’ve seen family members pass on. I won’t say that we’ve gotten used to it, but it is true that there is a certain familiarity we have with the emotions of loss, the etiquette of funerals and memorials.
But we often can’t answer the main question that we ask at such times; why? Why do people get cancer? Why did that person need to speed through that corner? Why did the mine collapse just then?
We are shocked. We are stunned. And it is inevitable that would ask “why?”, and “why them?”, and “why that way?”
We’ll never know why. And to decide that we do know why can sometimes cause damage to our own faith, makes us make assumptions about God that aren’t true. I would encourage us all, me included, to not spend a lot of time or energy on such questions, because we will not get an answer. Our comfort lies elsewhere. It doesn’t lie in answers. It lies in God.
It lies in a God that gave us the will to make our own decisions. He created free will in us so that we would choose Him freely, so that we could be true companions to Him, and not just pets on a leash. It lies in a God that still seeks us, and wants us to choose him freely. It lies in a God that does not always act the way we would have him act.
Because we can choose, and have innumerable opportunities to do so each day, he permits things to happen that we, in our limited understanding, feel he should prevent. The choices must have consequences, or they would not be true choices. When he permits us to suffer from our choices, we are left angry, disappointed, sad. Sometimes we feel like we can’t believe in God anymore. He did not do what we expected him to do, what we were taught that he would do from Sunday school on. Jesus saves? So where was Jesus when my family member needed saving from emphysema?
The kind of saving that Jesus does is not of that kind. Miracles do happen, I believe, but mostly, Jesus saves, God loves, us in the midst of our enmeshment in a fallen world, a world not of God’s original intent. Sometimes the way we are saved isn’t the way our loved ones expect, or even want. Sometimes, like the baby turtle, we’re saved not by help coming in the nick of time, but by being allowed to choose correctly, under a watchful eye.
We know from scripture that God is faithful, because he stayed with the Israelites, even when they rejected him. We know that God loves, because we Christians believe that he sent his son to earth so that he could save us from sin. Save us from ourselves.
I don’t believe that the love of God is a love that would willingly take people from this earth. This earth was created by God, is good, and it just doesn’t make sense to me that people would need to be rescued from it on the whole. There are times in which people’s lives have become so filled with pain, so limited by their failing bodies that we pray, in the depths of our souls, that God would take them home. Generally, however, that is not the way of things. The world is good. It was created by God. But in this world is death. Our story of Adam and Eve tell us that death was brought into the world by the choices of humans; and that through our choices, this world is no longer what God intended it to be.
God, even in the midst of an imperfect world that is different than what he designed, has stayed with us. If nothing else, our scriptures tell us that story. What is true is that God is here present with us now, crying as we cry, mourning as we mourn, dancing as we dance. He has not left us alone.
Jesus once asked his disciples about who was deserving of death. He used the example of 2 recent events in Jerusalem area. A group of people who were unfortunately sacrificed as (scholars assume) political prisoners by Herod, and an accidental collapse of a fortification on the south side of Jerusalem. The common belief at Jesus’ time was that those who suffer, or die unfortunately must have been greater sinners than those around them.
Jesus disagreed; he asked them: did any of them deserve to die? The answer, of course, was no. It still is no.
None of us deserve to die more than others. No one ever “needs killin’.” We are equally at fault for the damage done to the world, to the earth, to humanity. But we do know that the God who loves us, that sent his son so that we might understand what God meant by loving us, is with us now, in the midst of whatever mess we’ve made. God will be with us through every step of our lives. And will greet us when we die, whether it is our time, whether we arrive earlier than God expected, or whether God shows mercy and rescues us from our suffering.