Some years ago, I wrote a parable of sorts to address why God might allow evil:
An alien spaceship came near Earth to observe whether we were worthy of a visit. It focused its surveillance equipment on a random city and peered into a hospital operating room, where doctors were removing a cancerous tumor from a patient. The ship’s captain made the following report back to his superiors:
This planet is to be avoided at all costs. Their most developed creatures exhibit great cruelty, putting other members of their species to sleep so that they cannot defend themselves. Then, they cut them open with blades and remove body parts. Afterward, they sew them back together and wake them up, only to watch them writhe in pain. This is an evil planet! Stay away!
Obviously, the alien lacked understanding and context. This was not an act of cruelty or violence but of healing. Although it appeared to be an evil undertaking, it was necessary to save the patient. To be sure, the patient suffered as a side effect of the surgery, but suffering was not the point; healing after and through the suffering was the point.
Like many of you I am both mystified and disoriented by the events of the past year: a pandemic, people walking around in masks, fear everywhere, racial strife, protests nearly all year long that frequently turned violent, and finally a contested election and an attack on the Capitol. My own neighborhood currently resembles Belfast more than it does Washington, D.C. Blockades topped with razor wire seem to be everywhere; bridges are blocked; people are warned not to enter the city on Wednesday (Inauguration Day).
I feel as if I’m living in a strange, eerie dream, and I am deeply saddened by the decline of our culture. It has been eroding for decades, but lately there has been a rapid, frightening collapse. We seem only to be able to shout and fight. Those with the power to do so, the tech oligarchs, are making the Internet seem more like a police state; the principle of free speech is being denied to many. Secularization is rapidly expanding. Church attendance is even lower than it was after the shutdown. Even the vaccines, for which we so prayed and which were developed at “warp speed,” are a source of contention. There have, of course, been legitimate moral concerns about the development of vaccines for decades, but Covid-19 has intensified this. Add to this the politicization of who should be vaccinated first, who should be responsible for distribution successes or failures, and whether the current administration should get any credit for the rapid development of vaccines. Nearly everything is a source of bitter division. It feels as if we are living in a cauldron that is near-boiling.
The only place I can find peace is to go before the Lord and admit that I am powerless over most of this. I pour out my concerns to the Lord and wonder why these things are happening. Jeremiah’s lament of his own times comes to mind:
Have You rejected Judah completely? Do You despise Zion? Why have You stricken us so that we are beyond healing? We hoped for peace, but no good has come, and for the time of healing, but there was only terror (Jer 14:19).
To my similar lament I get few answers from the Lord. He only admonishes me to do the work I was given to do: to preach the Word prophetically, to pray devoutly, to celebrate the sacraments, and to care for the flock with which He has entrusted me. The rest is “above my pay grade,” and I must leave it to the Lord.
We often think that if only we had the power and control to change things, then we would have peace. But, paradoxically, our peace is most often found in admitting that when it comes to most things, we are powerless and not in control.
As the little parable above tries to illustrate, we do not often have the context to understand what God is doing or allowing. Perhaps this painful period of the past year is but the surgery necessary to cut away what is diseased and to bring forth a healing. Scripture speaks of God’s scalpel:
The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account(Heb 4:12-14).
Perhaps God has decided to allow our civilization to collapse so that something else may emerge. Perhaps these are the last days! I do not know, and it is not for me to know. All I do know is that God is in charge and is working out His purposes. There’s an old hymn with these lyrics:
Trials dark on every hand
And we cannot understand
All the ways that God would lead us
To that blessed Promised Land
But he guides us with his eye
And we follow till we die.
And we’ll understand it better,
By and By.
In the end, we must stay close to God and endure the suffering allotted to us (cf Rev. 13:10). The only place I find peace is at the feet of Jesus. I do not know what the future holds, but what matters most is that I know that the Lord knows. And I know what He has asked me to do. Stop watching all those news programs and stay close to Jesus, the Lord of history.
The peace of the Lord be with you all!