Isaiah 55:1-9 (first published 14 March 2004)
The leaders of most countries make decisions based on what they think is best for their citizens. In other words, nations are inherently selfish. And those are the best countries! Many ruled by dictators simply make decisions on the basis of what is best for them personally. There is a better way, though. The prophet says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, says the Lord," and he urges his contemporaries to "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near." The way of selfishness is not the way of God on a national scale any more than it is on an individual scale. If one nation, especially a rich and powerful nation, would begin to operate on the basis of what's best for the world, not just what's best for its own citizens, what kind of a world would it be? The prophet tells us that as well: "See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you." I believe that God wants to raise up nations, big or small, that will live by the principle that what's best for the world is what's best for us, even if it means that the citizens of that nation suffer short-term loss. That's the vision that the prophet who spoke these words had. Now, 2500 years later, are we ready to deliver?
Every year thousands of men, women, and children cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. in search of economic prosperity, political freedom, and peace. Hundreds of them die in the effort. To cross into the U.S., would-be immigrants have to pass through either the Sonoran or the Chihuahuan Desert, whose combined size is more than 750,000 square kilometers. By car the trip is difficult. On foot it is extremely dangerous. Poisonous plants, spiders, snakes, and even lizards inhabit the desert, and a brutal heat beats down on people throughout much of the year. The most dangerous element of all, though, is lack of water. Water is essential for survival, and most of those who die trying the enter the U.S. die from complications related to exposure, including lack of water. The psalmist compares his need for God to the need for water that a thirsty person crossing the desert has. The analogy is a good one, inasmuch as it captures the desperation that many feel at times in their quest for God. However, the analogy can be turned on its head as well. Those seeking water in the desert need it just as badly as people need an encounter with God. A famous Christian song written a couple of decades ago was entitled "People Need the Lord," and it describes the many circumstances of life in which people feel a need to call out to God, and it urges Christians to take the message of God to those thirsty for a taste of the divine. I appreciate the message of the song, but I would amplify it to emphasize the fact that those who are literally thirsty in the desert need the water comprised of hydrogen and oxygen at least as much as they need the living water. Too often we Christians restrict ourselves to providing spiritual care to people, when their immediate need is physical. People are dying in the desert because of a desire to seek a better life for themselves and their families. As Christians, it is our duty to welcome them as guests to our land, give them water to drink and food to eat, and show them the love of God.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (first published 14 March 2004)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan opens on the bridge of the Enterprise, with Lt. Saavik, a young Vulcan officer in command. Faced with a no-win situation, she makes a decision, and everyone on board is killed. The camera then fades back, and it turns out that she has been in a simulation called the Kobiashi Maru, a scenario in which there is no way out. Captain Kirk, we find out, is the only person ever to have escaped "alive" from the simulation, and he did it by reprogramming the computer. "I don't believe in no-win situations," he says, and he proves it later by escaping an apparently hopeless situation once again by cunning and trickery. Mr. Spock, on the other hand, faces his own real-life Kobiashi Maru, and he makes the decision to sacrifice his own life to save the crew. Paul tells his readers that, as far as temptation is concerned, there is no such thing as a Kobiashi Maru scenario. No matter what the situation, God always provides a way out of temptation. Of course, avoiding temptation in the first place is usually easier than extricating oneself from it, but we don't always have both options. Unlike Kirk, we can't reprogram the computer of life, and we're stuck with the decisions we make, even the bad ones. When we're faced with situations that seem too hard to handle, it's good to know that we can trust God to deliver us. And when we do fail, it's a comfort to know that God is always willing to forgive.
Luke 13:1-9 (first published 14 March 2004)
In Thornton Wilder's book The Bridge of San Luis Rey, a bridge high in the Andes mountains collapsed while five people were on it, and they plummeted to their deaths. The lone witness to the event, Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, immediately sought to put a theological spin on the event. Why had these five died and not others? Brother Juniper put his theological training to work, and reasoned as follows. "If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan." He undertook an investigation of their lives, and he arrived at reasons that God chose these five to die and not others. The problem was that Brother Juniper was wrong in his analysis of all five. None of the five was as wicked as Brother Juniper suspected, so God wasn't punishing them for their particularly heinous sins. Contrary to Brother Juniper's supposition, accidents do happen, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't have a plan for each of our lives. Brother Juniper's theological problem was that he thought that accidents ruled out God's sovereignty. Had he really known the secret lives of the people he piously condemned after his investigation, he would have known that God had no reason to punish them. He didn't understand that the sovereignty of God is so unfathomable to humans that accidents--real, tragic accidents like the one described in this novel--can happen, while at the same time God remains in control of the universe.