by Jim Killam | 8-minute read
Periodically on the blog, we talk with a pastor to go deeper into the subject of a particular sermon. This week, in a two-part interview, we talk with Josh Pardee, Pastor of Congregational Life, about Part 3 of Love Walked Among Us. Here’s the first half of our conversation.
Can we start by tackling the prevailing assumption that when bad things happen, it’s God’s judgment? Where does that come from? Is it biblical?
A lot of it probably comes from the psyche of the law in the Old Testament. It’s blessing and cursing … If you do this, then I’ll do that. In Luke 13, Jesus references the tower in Siloam and says the people who died in that tragedy were no guiltier than anyone else.
To me, there is a direct correlation between living a life contrary to the ways of God and suffering the consequences. Like, if I don’t tell the truth in my relationship with my kids or my spouse or my employer, that’s going to eventually lead to mistrust and probably devastation. Sometimes, there are also demonic influences that are trying to lead us down the path of death and destruction.
But I don’t think it’s our place to call out, on a global perspective, that “this” means “that.” I think we could probably do it in a more local context — in our life or our families, and being able to understand what God is inviting us into, and then offering everything up to him and letting him correct us. But I think that still is a bit of a journey where we’re learning to become more confident of what God is saying. We need to hold that humbly and allow him to lead us.
What everyone seems to want to do right now is declare judgment on other people. Most of the time, people are calling out the sins that they themselves don’t struggle with. So as a heterosexual, white, male who lives in a suburban context, it might be easy for me to point to sin issues that I don’t particularly struggle with. Some do this by saying God’s judgment is coming down on us because of things like abortion and homosexuality. Well, OK. Why aren’t we talking about your pride, gluttony, or your anger, or some of the things that people get celebrated for in our culture? You get promoted, you get a bigger platform if you live in into those things. It’s easy to throw stones at people who are different than us. It’s easy to point out issues in others, but the call of discipleship is that I first look within myself and I repent and believe the good news of Jesus.
It seems like our human nature is to need a quick reason for everything, especially with suffering. Maybe we all fancy ourselves as prophets sometimes, and we decide we can declare exactly why something bad is happening.
We are children of the enlightenment and modernity. We crave empirical evidence that we can make direct connection to why this is happening. If you go into first century Jewish mindset, that’s not what they’re thinking about. I think that’s where the disciples’ question for Jesus comes for this man who’s blind: Essentially, “Who made God mad and caused this?” That was their framework.
But we operate in a modern setting, with empirical data, and then that’s what we put on other people. So it’s the same thing. We’re just living on the other side of the enlightenment.
Maybe it’s easier to pronounce God’s judgment when we aren’t suffering, too. If people someplace else are suffering — New York as an example — then that becomes an easier pronouncement for us.
I was talking with somebody and that was their argument: It’s bad in New York because the governor there has been very in favor of abortion and letting people seek late-term abortions, very friendly to the LGBTQ+ agenda, et cetera.
The problem with this reasoning, though, is that this is literally a global pandemic. You might be able to make that case if it only happened in one little location. But it’s literally happening and killing both the righteous and the unrighteous over the entire world.
People tend to do that with local tragedies like hurricanes or tornadoes, too, but that quickly breaks down. You have to challenge those statements, I guess.
Right. I think there’s two ditches we go into. For some of us, it’s easier to announce judgment on other people. But some people live with a mindset that if something isn’t going right in their life, it means that they have done something wrong. Like, “You don’t have enough faith. You’re not living the right way.” And then it becomes internalized for that individual.
Well, it probably says something about our view of God too, doesn’t it? If we think we serve an angry God who is basically looking to throw lightning bolts, then this fits better.
I think that’s probably even the crux of it. How do we best understand who God is? That is a complicated question and there are lots of texts, lots of interpretations that we can make. But the best example we get, I think, is Jesus as the full revelation of who God is. Jesus in this case is not joining in on the condemnation or pointing to whose fault it was. Instead, he is willing to get down into the dirt with the man and bring about good news — even in the destruction, even in the pain, even in the suffering. And so that’s the good news that we have to grab a hold of, and cling to, and testify to other people about. This is who our God is. This is how he meets us.
It’s interesting that the gospel writers chose to record conversations like that. They must have been surprised, too.
One of the things I love about the Scriptures is their self-critique. The writers are not presented as perfect people who immediately got this. John says, in effect, “This is who we thought God was. And Jesus reframed that and showed us who he actually is.”
Let me jump to a related view that pops up a lot. It’s the prophecy thing: Because bad things are happening, these must be the end times.
I think this is the problem with a personal, individualized salvation and not seeing it as a holistic, we are a part of the church. Because if you see it more holistically, then you can’t jump to the conclusion that is all based off my experience of living a middle-class lifestyle in America. If that’s your framework, you’re always going to think it’s God’s judgment, or it’s the end times, as soon as something breaks out. But if you are connected to the suffering that happens among our brothers and sisters in other countries, it just completely reframes it.
I’m in a Pentateuch class right now. It was fascinating to think, what if you had asked the people of the Exodus, “So, tell me about your personal testimony.” And I understand — we live on the other side of the cross. There are differences. It doesn’t all line up. But they would be like, “What do you mean? I’m a child of Israel and I just watched God lay out 10 warnings and Pharaoh didn’t respond. And every time, he suffered the consequences. Then I watched God part the Red Sea. What do you mean, share my personal testimony? This is who we are, right?”
Hearing more from that corporate level of who the church is and what is happening globally, and how we’re actually all connected to that, it’s a lot richer and a lot deeper.
When you’re connected at that deep of a level in understanding the bride of Christ, you realize we are part of a heritage that goes all the way back to Abraham and the promises that were made to him. People have been suffering for centuries, all across the globe. I mean, think of the age of the martyrs in the second and third centuries. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
So, it just broadens your depth and your perspective that we don’t have to jump to immediate conclusions, thinking that this now means for sure that this is when God’s coming back. I want to live with that reality, that hope and that awareness that it could happen at any time. I’m not trying to stuff that anywhere. But I’m also not going to jump into the camp that says now this means God is for sure coming back in the next few weeks. I want to be aware to where is God present and at work right now in my family, on my block, in my community, in my church. I’m trying to live faithfully in that.
Next: What are better ways to think about COVID-19 and our faith? Read part 2 of our 2-part discussion.