28 November 2021

“God’s understanding is unsearchable” Isaiah 40:28

“God just doesn’t make sense.  How can you believe in something you don’t know a lot about?  If there was a God, wouldn’t there be nothing but good in this world?”  These are questions that Christians get asked quite often.  Sometimes we try to avoid these questions because we don’t know how to answer them.  They hurt our trust in God more than they help it.  When we do venture into a conversation about religion, many expect churchgoers to have all the answers, and when they find that we don’t, they are discouraged from coming to church because what is the point anyway, if the questions are never solved?  But do we attend church to answer the big questions, or do we come to find peace despite them?

When I took Philosophy in high school, I was taking it because it sounded interesting.  It was a class about thinking.  I did not expect to be asked on the first day of class some big questions such as “Is there life beyond earth?” and “If you only had a day to live, how would you spend it?” and “Is freedom always a good thing?”  I enjoyed it enough to take a Philosophy minor in college.  Sometimes philosophy is hard to wrap your mind around, but in essence is the “the study of wisdom.”  Wisdom can be being willing to ask questions that we don’t know the answer to.  Wisdom can also be admitting that we will never be able to know the answer to some questions, and being at peace with that.  As the great philosopher Socrates once said, “Wisest is he who knows that he does not know.”  I will not and cannot go into all the questions we can study in philosophy – but there are many similarities to an active Christianity.  As Christians, we think.  And sometimes we have to admit that we are not God, and therefore we do not always know what God is thinking.  We do not always understand everything about God.  The prophet Isaiah told us, “God’s understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28).  Do you seek to know why everything happens as it does on this earth, or can you trust God to keep working things out even as bad things happen?  Didn’t Jesus warn us about false prophets, and nation rising up against nation, man against man?  Rather than shy away from the big questions that you have about God and Christianity, why not ask them?  Ask each other; ask me.  This Advent, as we continue to wait to find God amid all the questions that can discourage our faith, I would like to show you not what all the answers are, because I don’t know them myself, but that it is pleasing to God when you ask them.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Most of us probably have a similar question that we also have been afraid to ask.  We think that if we ask a question, people will think our faith is weak.  If you would think that someone’s faith is weak if they ask a question, you should rethink that response.  I would like each one of you to think of a question that you have been wondering about in regards to God.  Once you think of it, write it down on your bulletins or wherever.  Pray about it.  Ask it of God.  Talk about it with your friends.  Ask me about it if you would like.  I think that I have wondered that same question that you have on your heart right now.  It is time to respond to a society that expands an answer right at our fingertips.  With God, we do not have that luxury.  We can’t Google the answers – well, we can, and we will find some opinions, but perhaps not an answer we are satisfied with.  And this is why many are discouraged from attending church today.  The answers to their questions are not found in the church.  How can we create an inviting atmosphere where we can invite this bewilderment together?

I have just assured you that it is a good thing to question God.  However, the way you ask these questions matter.  You can ask a question in one of two ways: to undermine someone or something, or to learn about someone or something.  The questions that I asked at the beginning of this sermon were undermining questions.  They are designed to upseat our faith.  It is the negative question.  The positive questions are asking seeking to learn something, such as what time our Christmas breakfast is in three weeks, who is running for Governor next year, and why God presides over a world where evil things happen.  Be a positive questioner.  If we seek to undermine our own faith, to find reasons not to believe, we probably will.  There are so many reasons to doubt.  But there are even more reasons to wonder.

Here is how one of our recent conversations went in Book Group:  We find suffering in this world.  But God does not cause this suffering.  Why doesn’t God stop it?  So that humans can have free will.  Well, that might answer why humans do bad things, but what about when someone is born with a birth defect?  What about when there is a complication during a surgery that should not have happened?  This isn’t free will.  God doesn’t go in and fix it.  Why not?  Well, God did not make it happen, certainly.  There was a case of a mother who could not have children, but because she could not have children, she had more time to lead others to faith in her church.  God did not say that she would be a better leader than a mother, but God made the best out of a bad situation to use her for good.  Why doesn’t God fix the issue?  I don’t know.  But I do know that God wants to use every situation for good.  How, in the midst of all we face, do we know that God is good?  If someone asks you to prove God is good, can you do it?  The only times that we have seen God intercede in our lives has been for good.  This could prove it.  But what about the violent God in the Old Testament?  What do we make of that?  As you can see, there are always more questions.  None of us have all the answers.  But we can be at peace with not knowing the infinite.  And, most of all, we cannot be a church that suppresses the discussion of mystery.  As Barnabas Piper noted in Help my Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, “God is God, and we are not.  Be silent” (67).  When Christians expect to find all the answers in the Bible, but do not find them, they can be led away from the Bible and from Christianity.  We can teach the world, however, that it is not about knowing all about God; it is being in relationship with God.

First, we need to promote an atmosphere of asking questions when we do not understand.  We should never be afraid to ask a question and there is no question not smart enough.  Second, our priority in seeking God first is not finding more knowledge of God, but being deeper in relationship with God.  We will not find hope in our God if we are just seeking more information and more answers that we may not be meant to know.  We will find hope in our God if we realize that God loves us and wants to teach us the ways of God’s character, of love and of patience.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves looking back to the first period of time waiting for Christ.  Yet if we think about the past only, it doesn’t much relate to our own lives today.  We too are meant to be preparing our hearts to welcome Christ again.  We too can find hope that, even amid a broken world, we have been able to find Christ in ourselves and in each other, and that we are confident in Christ’s eventual return.  As we are in this period of waiting, not knowing how long it will be, we can hope for a better future and work towards that.  We are to be encouraging more people to join the church, or to come back to the church.  We are to be spreading this hope and confidence in God.  And what better way is there to do that than to address the very reasons that people do not feel comfortable with the church?

The first misconception is that the church is supposed to have all the answers.  When people find that not even Christians know how to answer the big questions, they want no part of the church.  What the Christian needs to do is admit that they do not know, and not try to make up an answer that is obviously thought up on the spot and not at all satisfying.  The churches and their leaders need to admit this to their congregations too.  The second misconception is that the church is all about money.  All it wants is more members so that tithing can be higher.  Sadly, for some churches this is actually true.  But for a healthy church, the focus is on following Jesus.  Tithing does not only involve money, but giving of one’s time and talent too.  If we focus first on following Jesus, we know that God will provide.  The third misconception is that church has turned into a business.  The church just wants more customers.  In truth, we want to help others find Christ.  We celebrate Christians that belong to any church in the area; it is not a competition like it is for a business.  We are not saying that we offer a better project than the church in town.  We are merely trying to reach those who are unchurched, who need a home and a hope that will accept their fears, their questions, and their uncertainty.  Wherever the place is that you are now, and whatever denomination you belong to, this hope for a better tomorrow is what people examining the church need to see.

Psalm 25 and 1 Thessalonians 3 emulate hope.  The Psalm is a prayer to God, asking for God’s leadership, confident in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.  1 Thessalonians 3 envisions an increase in abounding love for one another.  If we were to see our hearts strengthened in both areas, we would see a much more confident hope in our future.  May God bless us with such a vision and hope.

If we do not have wonder, we have knowledge, not faith.  If we are not mystified, we have suppressed the questions that are on our hearts.  Come to God with whatever you have so that others might see you and do the same.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 25:1-10
25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
3:9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?
3:10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
3:11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.
3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.
3:13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Luke 21:25-36
21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.
21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,
21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

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