Where is the Lord? Preached Morning Star Chapel, Jan. 9, 2004
© 2005 by Patrick A. Rose
WHERE IS THE LORD?
A Sermon by the Rev. Patrick A. Rose
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Ps. 46:1)
OUR FAITH IS FOUNDED upon a belief in and a knowledge of the Lord. At the very heart of all that we know about the Lord there is the knowledge that He is a God of love. Near the beginning of the work True Christian Religion, there is a summary of our faith which begins with the words, "Jehovah God is love itself and wisdom itself, or is good itself and truth itself."1 He is not a God who loves some and turns others away. He is not a God who sometimes acts mercifully and at other times acts angrily. He is a loving God. More than this, He is love. He is pure love. Elsewhere, in the Arcana, we read that, "Jehovah, or the Lord's Internal, . . . was Love itself, to which no other attributes are appropriate than those of pure Love and so of pure Mercy towards the whole human race, that Mercy being such that it wills to save all people, to make them eternally happy, and to impart to them all that is its Own - thus out of pure Mercy and by the mighty power of love to draw towards heaven, that is, towards Itself, all who are willing to follow."2
"The mighty power of Love." The Lord's love is indeed mighty. It was from His love, and with infinite wisdom, that He created this wonderful and beautiful universe with all of its wonders.
Should anybody have any doubts about the Lord--about His love and His wisdom--all that person needs to do is open his eyes. The world is filled with all kinds of wonders, all kinds of miraculous things. If we should ever doubt the Lord's presence, all we need to do is look around us.3 We see the wonders of His love and wisdom throughout His creation.
We are so very blessed. We had been created by a God of love. We have been placed in a beautiful world. We have been given our lives and our freedom. We have been given the Lord's Word to guide us. And throughout our lives here on earth the Lord is watching over us and protecting us and guiding us, and leading us each and every day closer to Himself into a life of eternal happiness in His kingdom in the heavens.
Then, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, disaster can strike. All of a sudden, and often, it seems, through no fault of our own, life here on earth can turn into a living hell. And when this happens, we can find the very foundation of our faith being violently shaken. It can feel as if everything that we have believed in is being undermined. While things were good and things were beautiful we could see the Lord's presence all around us. Now we can wonder whether the Lord even knows what is happening. "Where is the Lord?" we ask ourselves.
It is not a new question. Throughout history, when times have turned hard, people's faith in the Lord has been tempted. After the Israelites left Egypt, time and time again they came to doubt the presence of Jehovah. In the Psalms, King David, in the midst of despair, is asked by his enemies, "Where is your God?"4 And when the Lord Himself was on the cross, He gave voice to that most human of temptations. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"5 Surely each one of us has at times experienced this feeling of abandonment, this feeling that perhaps the Lord has in some way forgotten us. "Where is the Lord?" we ask ourselves.
This ancient question, this very basic question, is, at this time, being asked throughout the world. Those killer waves that struck around the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas have resulted in the deaths of over 150,000 people. Countless greater numbers have been bereaved, injured, or made homeless. The vastness of the devastation is hard to comprehend.
This beautiful world, created for us by the Lord, has seemingly brought terrible destruction upon thousands and thousands of men, women and children. And just as that earthquake shook the world and stirred up the ocean, so too it can shake and undermine the foundations of faith itself.
There is a branch of theology called theodicy. Theodicy is concerned with reconciling a belief in a good and just God with the evil and suffering that is observed in the world. This is something that all those who believe in a God of love must grapple with. And the questions can seem particularly difficult in a case where incredibly large numbers of innocent victims have been killed or injured, and especially when this destruction has been brought about, not by the obvious evil actions of others, but by the forces of nature itself, nature which has been created by a loving and benign God.
Now the Heavenly Doctrines have a great deal to say about this subject. Many pages in the work, Divine Providence, for example, address the question of why the Lord allows or permits evil things to occur. It is a large subject indeed.
There are, though, certain fundamental and universal truths that always apply. The most fundamental of these truths is, of course, that the Lord is pure love. What comes from the Lord is always good.
Another fundamental truth is that the Lord grants freedom of choice to human beings. It is through the misuse of this freedom that evil arises and has existence and has consequences. If people are to be free, and if the Lord is to lead them in freedom out of what is evil, then He must at times permit what is evil to occur. As we read in one of our lessons this morning, the Lord leads a person out of evil and into what is good, but "this cannot be done without permitting evil."6 Whenever the Lord allows evil to occur, though, it is for the sake of salvation.
Another principle, and one that is often hard for people to accept, is that the Lord's government, in a phrase used by the Writings, "is universal in things most individual."7 In our lesson from Matthew this morning, it is said that not a single sparrow "falls to the ground apart from your Father's will."8 The Lord is involved, causing some things, and allowing others, in every single detail of our lives.
It is difficult for us to grasp this for the reason that we ourselves are so limited. One of the reasons that people can have so much trouble grasping the tragedy of those tsunamis is that we cannot even really picture the meaning of 150,000 people. It is such a large number, far greater a number of people than we could ever get to know in our lives. And yet the Lord knew each and every one of those people. He knew every detail of their lives. He knew each and every hair on their heads. He knew what was going on inside of them, every single thought and feeling. He knew what they loved, and what they yearned for. He knew their spiritual destinations. And He loved and will forever love each and every one of these people.
The Lord is not uninvolved. He is more involved than we could ever imagine, for He is involved in every single least detail. He knows all things. And His love is always fully present, seeking in everything to bring all who are willing into everlasting happiness.
This is the case with all of us. As we go through our lives, we are, for the most part, completely unaware that the Lord is watching over us and protecting us in a million secret ways. They are secret ways, because if we were consciously aware of His leading, we would resist it. We would not feel our lives were our own. And so it is that even though many people would say that they believe the Lord is leading them, they for the most part think that the things that happen to them are either a result of their own efforts, or else are matters of luck and chance.9 What they don't realize--what we don't realize--is that the Lord, in countless secret ways, is protecting us and leading us away from harm.
If only we knew how often the Lord, each and every day, stops things happening to us that would hurt us. Take an example: you might be about to leave the house, but then someone phones you. You end up leaving a few minutes later than you otherwise might have. What you don't realize, and what you may never realize, is that it may well have been that if you had not been delayed, you would have been hurt, even killed. You might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time on the highway. We never know, do we, what could have happened? And yet the Lord knows, and the Lord watches over us, and protects us from countless natural and spiritual dangers. And He does this because He loves us. He loves us far more than we love ourselves.
Now if there were no evil in the world, if people had never used their freedom to choose to turn away from the Lord, there would be far fewer dangers for the Lord to protect us from. We would all live safe and peaceful lives in this world, and, then, in old age we would, without disease, without trauma, simply leave our natural bodies behind so as to enter our homes in the other world.
But there is evil in the world . . . evil that threatens people, evil that hurts them. And because of the need to protect people from evil, often the Lord must permit things to happen that otherwise would not happen. There is in the Spiritual Diary a passage which speaks of why it is that people die at different ages, some in childhood, some as youths, some as adults, and some in old age.10 And always the time of death is on account of use, use to oneself and use to others, others in this world and others in the spiritual world. The Lord may foresee, for example, that a person would be overpowered by evil influences if he were allowed to remain in this world. He may see that a person is needed in the other world to help provide a greater force for good in the spiritual world so as to counterbalance the forces of evil here on earth.
And so it is that the Lord must sometimes permit things to happen that He Himself does not will. He must permit them on account of the consequences of the free choices of human beings, consequences that we can rarely see.
The Lord did not will the tragedy that struck the world in December. The Lord most surely grieves at all the suffering, all the pain. But He must have seen that only by permitting this could even greater harm be prevented. And we know this must be so because we know that He is a God of Love. And we know that wherever He can and whenever He can, He blesses humankind in ever way possible. He wants each and every one of us to choose and experience happiness, eternal happiness.
And so, whenever tragedies and disasters are permitted, the Lord is not absent. He is here with all of us on this earth. He is very close to us. And He is seeking, even in the midst of human suffering, to bring us closer to the blessings of heaven.
Perhaps in our own way we can see something of the Lord's working right now amongst the peoples of this world as they respond to this awful disaster. Throughout the world, individual people--men, women, children-have been helping in whatever ways they can. Governments have responded, and despite the inevitable politics--for this is by no means a perfect world--nations have been joining together to help those who have suffered. Throughout the world people are reflecting more about their relationship to God, and the nature of His providence. They are reflecting more about their relationship with one another, and how we are really all part of one great family. We are all brothers and sisters. People are praying for others, and helping others, in many different ways.
We, like everybody else, grieve in our hearts at all the suffering, all the damaged lives, all the destruction. We also pray for those many, many people who have been hurt in so many ways. And we place our faith in the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, with infinite love and infinite wisdom, is watching over each and every person in this world, and leading us all, in secret and miraculous ways, ever closer to the everlasting peace of heaven. We know that the Lord is with us. We know that He is very, very close.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
Lessons: Ps. 46
Psalm 46:1-11 1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah 4There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. 7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah 8Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has made desolations in the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. 10Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! 11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Matthew 10:23-31 23When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house ,Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! 26Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. 28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. 30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
DP 234. THE LAWS OF PERMISSION ARE ALSO LAWS OF THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE There are no laws of permission by themselves or separate from the laws of the Divine Providence: they are indeed the same. When, therefore, it is said that God permits, this does not mean that He wills, but that He cannot avert on account of the end, which is salvation. Whatever is done for the sake of the end, namely, salvation, is according to the laws of the Divine Providence. For, as was said before, the Divine Providence, keeping this end continually in view, is constantly moving in ways different from and contrary to man's will. Therefore, at every moment of its operation or at every step of its progress, when it perceives man to deviate from this end, it directs, bends and disposes him in accordance with its laws by withdrawing him from evil and leading him to good. It will be seen in what follows that this cannot be done without permitting evil. Moreover, nothing can be permitted without a cause, and such a cause is only to be found in some law of the Divine Providence which explains why it is permitted.
SD 5002. CONCERNING THE DURATIONS OF THE LIFE OF MEN: WHY SOME LIVE LONG, AND SOME NOT LONG. The life of every man is foreseen by the Lord, as to how long he will live, and in what manner; wherefore he is directed from earliest infancy with a regard to a life to eternity. The Providence of the Lord, therefore, commences from earliest infancy.
SD 5003. The reasons why some die boys, some youths, some adults, some old men, are: 1st, on account of use in the world to men; 2nd, on account of use, while he is in the world, to spirits and angels; for man, as to his interiors, is with spirits; and he is there as long as he is in the world, in which all things in the spiritual world terminate; 3rd, on account of use to himself in the world, either that he may be regenerated, or that he may be let into his evils lest they lie dormant and afterwards break out, which would result in his eternal ruin; 4th, therefore, on account of use afterwards in the other life, after death, to eternity; for everyone who will be in heaven has his place in the Grand Man, or, on the other hand, he has his place in hell: wherever forces fail they are balanced, and, of the Providence of the Lord, men are brought thither. Thus also, the kingdom of the Lord is cared for, the welfare of which is universal Providence.