When God Doesn’t Make Sense
Welcome to our new series for Lent called When God Doesn’t Make Sense.
On the surface, there may be many things about God that don’t make sense to you. Today, we’re going to look at when God says, “No” and that “No” doesn’t always make sense. For those of you who are back to Church for the first time in a long time, you may have stayed away precisely because it seemed like “No” was all God ever said, “Thou Shall Not!” Thou shalt not do this, that, or the other thing!
So the first chance you had, you got as far away from Church as you could. If that’s you, you picked the perfect weekend to come back because that’s what we’re talking about today. But first, here are some basic principles that we will return to throughout this series:
To start, it makes sense that God doesn’t always make sense because if God is all wise and all knowing, and we are limited in our wisdom and knowledge, it makes sense that we don’t always understand God’s ways of doing things.
We see life through a narrow window of time and space and experience, whereas all time and space and experience are present to God. We understand a fraction of how the world works. God understands all of it.
Secondly, there’s a difference between God not making sense, and life not making sense. Sometimes it’s life that doesn’t make sense. Not everything that happens in our life is God’s will.
Every time we pray the “Our Father” we say, “they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray for God’s will to be done on earth because God’s will isn’t always done. This world is not currently as God wants it or wills it to be, there are forces of evil that oppose God. For example, there are people who do bad things because they have chosen evil over good.
God can make all things work together for those who love him. What others intend for evil, God can use for good. And God eventually will have his way, but in the meantime there’s a lot going on that is heartbreaking, heartbreaking to us and to God.
Sometimes when bad things happen, well meaning Christians might say, “It is God’s will.” And you think, “If that’s what God wants then I want nothing to do with God.” I don’t blame you. But God doesn’t want poverty, disease, war, terrorism, violence, addiction, and all the rest. Yet, God allows it.
Some theologians describe it in this way: there is God’s preferred will and God’s permissive will. God’s preferred will is what God wants to happen, how he calls people to act, how he desires history to unfold. And yet God has given us the freedom to act any way we want, including ways that are contrary to His will. He permits people to have free will because only with free will can we truly learn to love. And that’s what he wants for us most of all.
Finally, no matter how much we study God, we really don’t know much of anything beyond what he himself has told us in Scripture. His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are far from our thoughts, these things we cannot grasp. And if your inability to do so is a deal breaker when it comes to faith, you are doomed to a life of doubt.
We cannot know the mind of God, but we can know the heart of God. Through Scripture God reveals his heart. And in prayer, in the Sacraments, in a loving relationship with the living Lord, in our sacrificial giving, in our Christian life, we can come to know God’s heart more intimately.
For so many people who grew up Catholic, God was a subject in school, or CCD, or religious education. And it wasn’t a subject you liked. When you were old enough to start asking questions you discovered your teachers didn’t necessarily have all the answers.
This God thing just didn’t make any sense to you. So you rejected it on an intellectual level. But the relationship God wants with you surpasses that. It’s not anti-intellectual. Faith is not opposed to reason; it’s just that it doesn’t start there. Faith starts in the heart. God invites us to draw closer to his heart. That is where we begin.
So back to the question we raised earlier. Why does God say “No” to things that are good things? To help us answer that question we are going to look at a passage from the book of Genesis.
Many people view Genesis as a kind of fairy tale, but I’d encourage you not to look at it that way. Genesis doesn’t tell us exactly how creation was formed, but that it was according to God’s loving plan. The more you read and study it, the more it makes sense of our human condition.
Genesis tells us that when God created the world, everything was perfect. There was perfect harmony in creation, between people, and with God. When God had the world as he wanted and willed it, there was only one rule:
You must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam and Eve could not eat of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in other words, the tree of the knowledge of everything, everything all mixed up together.
While free choice did exist before the fall, evil existed only as an entity wholly separate from the human psyche, and it was not in human nature to desire it. Here’s what happened to change all of that.
The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” Now I have to admit, a talking serpent might stretch your believability from the outset, but consider that evil often presents itself to us in clever and unexpected disguises. Notice how the serpent twists the words of God and plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind. He makes it sound as if God is holding out on her.
The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat or even touch it lest you die’.”
To which the serpent responds: “You will certainly not die! God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”
This is what evil always does. Evil works to question God and steal our trust. The serpent is telling Eve, “God is holding out on you. He’s keeping good things from you, stuff he doesn’t want you to have, because he’s a control freak.” The serpent is saying, “If you want to have a great life, you need to let go of the myth of God and God’s control over your life.” Evil says “what you call God is a lie, a fraud.”
This is the lie we all hear repeated over and over again in various ways. It’s a lie we tell ourselves sometimes. How often do we come up against the idea of God, not the experience of God, but the idea of God, and actively consider it all a lie and a fraud. It’s an appalling idea, and yet an alluring one, because it’s an easy one to indulge in because we want to get our way.
The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom; more disguises for evil. Eve is suddenly attracted to the fruit she hadn’t even considered before.
Nothing seemed wrong with the fruit. It was desirable in its promise of wisdom and perhaps power. This happens in life all the time. We see things. They are pleasing to the eye. They look good on the surface. They seem desirable for gaining whatever we’re after or whatever we want.
Yet, there’s a voice in us that says “Stay away from it. Don’t touch it . Don’t taste it. You really don’t want to go near that.” But there is another voice that asks “Why?” or “Why not?” And once we’re on that path, it’s very hard to exercise control.
Eve and Adam ate the fruit and their eyes were both opened. Their eyes were both opened… to sin, and death, to good and evil. Their innocence was lost. Their paradise was over.
Previously they didn’t know good and evil. They only knew good. Their disobedience introduced them to everything that God was intending to keep from them. He does this because he wants more FOR us.
For those of you who are parents, this needs no explanation or argument, you face this everyday, multiple times a day. You say “No” all the time. Sometimes it seems like that’s all you say. You say “No” even though they don’t understand, even though they resent it. Your love for them wouldn’t permit you to do otherwise. That’s why God says “No.”
God’s no, is a sign of his care. In today’s Gospel, Jesus himself faces the temptations and the lies of the evil one. After Jesus says no, the the devil left, and angels came and ministered to Jesus. The angels ministering to him are a sign of God’s care. Remember, on the other side of God’s “No” is always God’s care.
Here is what we want you to know: God saying no, does not always make sense, but on the other side of that no, is God’s care.
Here is what we would like for you to do: I invite you to make one of two commitments. If you’re new, or it’s your first time in a long time, commit to coming back. I invite you to join us for all six weeks of this series. We have 4 Masses every weekend. Mass Times are in the bulletin and our website where you can also find all of our homilies, text and audio.
Or for those of you who attend regularly, you probably know someone who needs to hear this series. Invite them to join us. Invite someone to join us.