Life and Death Decisions, or Recognizing Evil

    Oct 04, 2015

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton


    I am not going to talk today about divorce or same sex marriage or the purpose of the law. I am instead going to explore our seeking after God and our desire to know God and therefore live out our lives in and to the truth.

    There was a student of a wise and probably good teacher who had a deep longing to find God. Not just the knowledge of God and God’s ways, but a longing to experience God the way one experiences falling in love. Every day the student would ask, “How do I find God?” “Through desire,” the teacher would answer. And the disciple would say, “But I desire God with all my heart, don’t I?”

    One day the teacher and the student were swimming in the river. Surprisingly the teacher suddenly grabbed the student by the shoulders and pushed the student’s head underwater for a substantial time. The teacher held on as the student struggled and wrestled to push back to the surface for air. Finally the teacher released the strong hold and the student sprang up gasping for air.

    The next day the teacher asked the student, “Why did you struggle so much when I held your head under the water?” The student answered, “Because I was gasping for air!”
    The teacher replied, “When you are given and you receive the grace to gasp for God the way you gasped for air you will find God.”

    Anthony de Mello, S.J. “Survival” in One Minute of Wisdom.

    Today’s scripture lessons put us in contact with the human search for God in the midst of the vagaries of life, the struggle with utter surrender to

    God, an unrelenting desire for God’s presence as does the book of Job. The challenges we face in understanding God’s will and presence when we are confronted by paradox.

    Job lived a life of tenacious faithfulness and was rewarded with a “test.” God gives permission for him to be tested and tried. This is as uncomfortable to us as is the teacher holding the student under water. [However, don’t miss the caveat that the “skin for skin” was limited and Satan was not allowed to take Job’s life!] “Where is the compassionate God of protection?” We might ask.

    Well, I can go on and on with questions raised by the book of Job, just by covering the opinions of Job’s good friends who come to help Job discover the hidden sin that has caused his misfortunes. Or I can take Job literally and try to describe the devil we need to recognize, and why God would allow Satan so much power in creation. But I won’t. I want to emphasize one simple but difficult to imagine, or even realize, truth. Finding and knowing and experiencing God is a matter of life and death!

    I’m not talking about going to heaven or hell when we die. I’m referring to the quality of life we lead when we are “In Christ and Christ is in us.” I have come to realize the truth of Paul’s phrase, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

    To die to the world’s expectations of strength, power and independence and live knowing our need for God in our lives and accepting our purpose as being Christ in the world, serving the vulnerable. That means vulnerable to our culture and inherent evil.

    For Job, the temptation of personal tragedy and illness was to “Curse God and die!” He was tested to the breaking point. When Job finally cries out, God reminds him that human ways are not God’s ways. (When this was written, God was changing the way we were to reason concerning calamity, tragedy and personal illness. Unfortunately, many people still think that we get what we deserve in life; it allows the warrior to kill, the rich to ignore the poor and the healthy to avoid the sick and the sober to pass judgment on the addicted drunk. Job refused to commit an evil act, clinging to his knowledge of himself as a faithful servant of God,

    and Job’s knowledge of God which is about to be expanded for the benefit of all humankind.

    God desires to be in an intimate relationship with humankind as much as we desire to “find God.”

    The teacher in the story gives the student a visceral bodily experience of where the longing to find God will lead. It does not always lead to placid, peaceful meditation and warm, fuzzy feelings. When we reach for God we are reaching for the, “Unknowable source at the heart of the universe that cannot be tamed by our imaginations or our intellectual pursuits.” God is wilder and greater than we will ever comprehend in this life.

    Yet god is good; the Ultimate Good. When we ask to find God, we are asking out of a longing with which we were born, but that we can’t fully know.

    We may think we want simply to understand what it is like to be loved just as we are, without pre-conceived expectations that we can never fully meet. We may think that finding God will relieve us of unresolved guilt. We may think that finding God will lift us above the rest of humanity among a favored group. We may think that finding God will enable us to understand life fully; that we will be considered wise and good. Maybe we think that finding God will erase worry from our lives and we will enter into a “no fly” zone of God’s perfect protection from all evil.

    One thing I’m certain of. We don’t find God, but when we know at some level that it is a matter of life and death we will be open to God’s presence and be able to accept God on God’s terms and not our own. When it is a matter of life and death, when our spirits are gasping for the breath of God we will be able to listen for the truth rather than a rational for our present beliefs and behaviors.

    God changed the way we approach the law with Jesus. God changed the way we relate to those different from ourselves through Jesus. God gave a new way to accept suffering through Jesus. And God is still revealing God’s ways to us through Jesus in our hearts and minds. Amen