Paul Knitter’s Homily from June 24, 2018

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies 2 Comments

WHO’S IN CONTROL?

 

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 24, 2018

(Job 38:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41)

 

  1. JOB’S QUESTION: WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE? WHO’S IN CONTROL?

 

  1. The first reading, from Job, sets the theme for our reflections this morning – and it’s not a very upbeat or easy theme: the problem of evil. 
  • Our reading picks up the conversation between Job and his three friends at the point where God steps in and takes over. They had been trying to figure out why such a good guy like Job lost everything he had, including his ten kids, and is now covered with soars. How could this happen?!
  • It’s at this point that God intervenes like a frustrated parent amid an argument between the kids: The biblical verse is the equivalent of: “Shut up, all of you, and listen to me!”:   “Then God answered Job from the heart of the storm: “Who is this obscuring my plans with such ignorant words? Hitch up your belt like the fighter you are; now I’m going to ask the questions and you will answer me!”
  • And then follow the poetic questions that powerfully and beautifully point out just how ignorant we human beings are about how the world was created and how it works.

 

  1. In our two other readings there are also storms and travails that point to bad things happening to good people.
  • Mark’s Gospel describes another storm – the fierce gale and the waves flooding into the boat. And the disciples Job-like cry: “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we are going to drown?”    You’re sleeping while we are trembling!
  • And in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul has his own list of Job-like afflictions: “…trials, difficulties, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, and hunger.”

 

  1. In all these complaints or laments, Job and the disciples and Paul are searching for means by which they can have some control over their lives – some control over the “bad things” that happen unexpectedly, so frequently. How to cope with it all! —  And what is God’s answer to Job?

 

  1. GOD’S ANSWER: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL!

 

  1. What God makes clear to Job is a truth that I think all of us here in this room can verify: we humans are not in control of our lives. For a control-freak like myself, that’s a hard message.

 

  1. I suspect God’s response to Job is unsettling for all of us. I quote from a sermon aid I checked in preparation for this sermon: “These speeches of God at the end of the book of Job leave many readers dissatisfied. We want God to tell Job about the wager with Satan. We want God to apologize for all of Job’s suffering. We want God to be at least, well, comforting. Instead, in the words of William Safire: “It’s as if God appears in a tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Because I’m God, That’s Why.'”
  • In other words, God is telling Job and his friends: “I’m God and you’re not. You can’t figure things out. You can’t be in control of your lives.”

 

  1. But does that mean that it is God who is in control of our lives? That, I think I can say, has been the traditional teaching:  We may not have control of our lives, but don’t worry, the all-powerful God does.
  • Here I would ask you to bear with me in exploring my own personal problems with the assertion that an omnipotent God is always in control and why I think that this is not the only way to interpret Job, and the other readings for today.

 

  • MY/OUR QUESTION: IS GOD IN CONTROL?

 

  1. I’m sure that many of you have struggled with believing in an all-loving God who is also all-powerful and in control of all that happens.

 

  1. Such a belief, if you allow me to say, doesn’t make sense; it leads to contradictions; and I think it’s theologically incoherent.
  • I’m sure that many of you have heard, or have felt, this argument: if God is truly all loving and all powerful, then there is no way that “He” (I feel the male pronoun might be appropriate) can be let off the hook for the horrors and sufferings that clutter human history and individual lives.
  • I’m talking both of sufferings caused by the forces of nature and by human choices. If God could have prevented a tsunami that took thousands of lives, or if God could have prevented the Holocaust – and didn’t, then I don’t see how you can describe such a God as loving – or as moral!
  • A parent who could prevent her/his child from being run over by a car and doesn’t is neither loving nor a moral being. If God were to do such a thing, I can’t help but apply the same judgment.

 

  1. Like many theologians, such as Rabbi Kushner who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People, I conclude that, given what goes on in this world, I cannot believe in a God who is both all loving and all powerful.

 

  1. THE REALITY: NO ONE IN CHARGE.

 

  1. So if God is not all powerful and therefore not in charge, who is?
  • I suggest to you the answer: No one is in charge.  There is no all-powerful controller or director or decider for what happens in this world.

 

  1. What happens in this world derives basically, I think, from two causes: the random happenings of natural elements and forces and the unpredictable choices of human beings.
  • As contemporary science tells us, both biology and physics, nature is shot through with random occurrences. Chance genetic mutations are one of the two principles that drive biological evolution. And Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells us that we can never be sure how sub-atomic elements are going to act; all we have is probability.

 

  • This uncertainty principle applies all the more to human free will. What humans choose to do is frightfully unpredictable.

 

  1. I do believe that if Christians and Jews and Muslim believe in a Creator God, then they have to accept this randomness and unpredictability of nature and human free will. We believe that God is a Creator, not a puppeteer. To create, like to parent, is to bring forth and “let be,” not to manipulate.

 

  1. May I suggest that this is the message, or a possible interpretation, of God’s response to Job. God does not answer Job’s question about why he is suffering.  And I suggest that God does not answer not because God has an answer but refuses to reveal it, but rather, because there is no answer.  Bad things just happen – either because of the random forces of nature or because humans cause suffering to each other. There’s no one controller of it all.
  • But what I suggest God does tell Job – and this is the heart of what I want to propose to you — is that there is a Holy Mystery called God that is the Source and Ground of all that is. And this Holy Mystery is a Love that is real and always present, no matter what randomly happens, no matter what humans do.  In the midst of whatever suffering comes your way, trust this Mystery.  You are never alone.

 

  1. THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL: WE ARE NOT ALONE. WHATEVER WINDS BLOW, WE ARE NOT ALONE IN THE BOAT.

 

  1. If this message of an ever-present and trust-worthy Mystery is only suggested in the reading from Job, it is front and center in the Gospel of Mark.
  • What is Jesus’ message when his disciples turn to him and wake him in the midst of their terror: “Why are you so frightened? Have you no faith?”  The Greek might be better translated: “Are you still without trust?”  “Pistis” means trust more than faith.

 

  • His message is that no matter how much our boat is tossed about by unpredictable waves, or by waves caused by choices others or we ourselves have foolishly made, we are never alone. We are never alone.  Always present is the Holy Mystery of love and infinite possibilities, embodied for Christians in Jesus.

 

  • And this Holy Mystery, if trusted, can work what seem like miracles in our lives. Mainly in two ways: Holy Mystery offers us resources of strength and possibility – the strength to hang in there, and possibilities to deal with whatever happens, even to turn what seems like evil into opportunities for good.

 

  • How do we know this Holy Mystery is always there? We don’t.  We have to trust it.  And in trusting it, we can know it.

 

  • It is because of this Holy Mystery, which Jesus called Abba and which he embodied, that we are able to say with Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: Even when “we seem to have nothing, yet we possess everything.” There is always someone else in the boat with us.

 

  1. We continue now with our liturgy where in the sacrament of sharing a meal and hearing the story, we can experience, even as did the disciples, that we are not alone in our boat. The Holy Mystery, embodied in Jesus, is alive and well among us and between us. – Come let us eat and drink with him together. Together, let us trust and know.

 

Paul Knitter

 

Comments 2

  1. Paul,

    Finally, a religious man who thinks that NO ONE IS IN CHARGE! Thank you for saying it. You have confirmed and uplifted my intelligence. And calling it “A Holy Mystery” is perfect!
    I’d love to send you one of my books that speaks to these issues, written after my parents died. Send me your address if you would like a copy.

    Thanks Paul. You are wise!

    Ellis Felker

    1. Ellis, Thanks for your supportive words. I would very much appreciate a copy of one of your books. You can send it to: 711 S. Few St. Apt. 1E, Madison, WI 53703.

      Gratefully,

      Paul

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