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What Did I Do, Lord?
July 23, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 13:24-43

A beautiful, talented, vivacious college age young woman was in a fire. As the result of the fire she had one arm and both legs amputated. Three and a half months later, she died an agonizing death. Her mother asked, “Why her? What did she do?” When confronted with pain, sickness, tragedy, things we can't explain and can’t understand, when confronted with evil, our reaction often is, “What did I do, Lord?” as if we're being punished by the evil that has come into our lives. What did I do, Lord? Or, if we somehow change behavior, then the situation would change. I did something; therefore, if I undo something, maybe this evil, this pain, this hurt will leave. Sometimes that's true. If one's weight is affecting one's heart, then losing weight will improve the heart condition. Quitting smoking will improve the lung condition. Often there is a result of one's behavior in one's life, but not always. 

In the New Testament lesson this morning, the story that Jesus told illustrates the fact that there is evil in the world. He told the story about a farmer who planted wheat and then the weeds grew. He said an enemy planted the weeds. Can you imagine you are planting your field and some night your enemy sneaks over and throws some thistle seed around? When the weeds grew, a servant asked, “Shall we pick the weeds?” The farmer said, “No, because you may also pick the good grain. Leave both of them there until the harvest.” This was a common story to the people of that day and of that land. There was a weed called darnel or bastard wheat, which so resembled wheat, that in its early stages, you literally could not tell them apart. If you tried to pick the weed, you could mistakenly pick the wheat. So what they would do is let the wheat grow into maturity and then at the time of the harvest, cut it all down. And then when the weeds and grain were laid out, they could see the difference. Then they had to cull the darnel out because it's slightly poisonous, and it would make people sick if they ate it by mistake. 

But they could not weed the crop while it was growing because they might pick the wheat instead. This illustrates the fact that there is evil growing alongside of good in our lives. Jesus is saying there is pain, there is hurt, there is inexplainable evil and suffering that accompanies good in our lives. Sometimes you can't pick out the hurt, you can't abolish, you can't prevent the hurt without also affecting the good. Or, sometimes it takes pain to teach us what the good is and when we've experienced the good, then we can identify the hurt and the pain. The child who is never taught “No”, never taught chores and responsibilities because we don't want to give him pain is hurt in the long run. It takes hurt, it takes chores, it takes responsibility along with fun in order to end up with a good healthy, happy, successful life. So the question—What did I do, Lord?— may not always fit because evil exists along with the good.

Who is responsible? In this story it was the devil, the enemy. There are foreign, alien forces at work in our lives. In Bible School, the third and fourth grades made pottery. They fashioned the clay and let it dry. Then Marge Peters took it home to fire. We tried to explain to the children not to expect to get back everything that was made because when you fire clay, it often breaks without any rhyme or reason. So don't get your heart set on getting back everything you've made because there may be some pain, there may be some hurt. You may not get back your favorite piece because it might break. Life is that way and it's no one's fault. It's improper to say, “What did I do wrong that my pottery broke? Was I bad that my pottery broke?” 

Who is responsible for evil, pain and suffering? Following Second World War, a German Lutheran minister by the name of Gunter Rutenborn, wrote a play called “The Sign of Jonah”. In this play, he tried to answer the question—who is responsible for evil and war? The play is set in a courtroom. The judge is sitting on the court and the purpose of the trial is to find out who is guilty, who is responsible for the Second World War. The first witness is an old man who served in World War One and had two sons die in World War Two. He was a German. The judge asked him, “Who is responsible for this war?” And the man said, “I think God is guilty.” 

The next witness is a young Jewish woman, and she said, “I agree with the previous speaker. I think God is guilty. My mother, my father, my husband, and my children were exterminated at Dachau in that concentration extermination camp. But if God were powerful, God wouldn't have allowed Hitler to have all that power. I think God is guilty for God could have prevented the murder of my family.” 

The judge then turned to the defense attorneys and said, “Would you like to speak a word in defense of God?” The defense attorneys in the play said, “No, we have nothing to say.” The judge said, “Well, I'm going to remove myself from this case. I cannot judge God. If any of you want to pronounce a sentence on God, you go right ahead.” 

The German, the first witness, said, “Let God become a man. Let God see how it is. Let him see us. Let him hear the cries of the poor and the oppressed. Let him see the blind, the crippled and the insane. Let him taste all our moral depravity too. Let God become a man.”

The Jewish witness, the Jewish woman, said, “Let God become a Jew. Let God see how that is. Let him be taken by a gang of hoodlum soldiers, falsely accused, sentenced, dragged off to a concentration camp. Let God be tortured, and finally let him die all by himself in some godforsaken hole.” 

One of the defense attorneys by the name of Gabriel came forward and said, “All right, and I'll tell Mary that she has to be the mother.” And that was the end of the play. 

God did become a man. God did suffer. God does know what it’s like. But, the question is not if God is all powerful, why can't God prevent people like Hitler? The question is not if God is all powerful and can do anything, why does he not eradicate all disease? Why does he not overcome evil if God is all powerful? God may be all powerful, but God also limits himself. God rarely overrules people. God rarely overrules you and me. We have our freedom. God rarely steps in and changes situations. The question is not if God is all powerful, why does he allow evil? 

The image of God needs to be changed. Rather than picture God as some almighty dictator or some almighty tyrant who can declare an edict, issue an edict and change things. Rather than picture an almighty person sitting around somewhere, sending you your illnesses or sending you your disasters in order to punish you, rather than that image of God, think of Jesus. 

Whenever you think of God, think of Jesus for Jesus is the best picture we have of God. When you look at Jesus, you see a man who was very tender, loving and had compassion for people when they hurt. He healed when he could, when the situations were right. We see a man who suffered and died an unjust death, a man who knew pain. When you think of God, think of Jesus who along with the evil that exists with the good in the world, also suffered and agonized. 

Rather than ask, “What did I do, Lord?”, rather than demand that God change the situation, remember Jesus and realize that in experiencing evil, in experiencing hurt, in experiencing pain, in experiencing things that are unfair, Jesus is there helping you to cope, giving you strength to bear. In the relationship you can have with a God who suffers, new meaning to life can open in you because God knows what suffering is all about.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris