When God Looks Like Evil
St. Luke 5:1-11 (6/26/16)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Sometimes God’s best gifts are also the most unpleasant ones. He had just “blessed” Simon and his fishing partners with a horribly disappointing night of fishing. So Simon complained to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Those who make their living by catching fish know that this is nothing short of catastrophic. No fish means no money; it also means nothing to eat.
God gave theses men a miserable night without fish, but it turned out to be an incredible blessing. If they had caught fish before Jesus came along, they probably wouldn’t have needed His help; and they certainly wouldn’t have left their livelihoods behind to follow Jesus. Sometimes God’s best gifts are also the most unpleasant ones.
Like faith, for instance. Faith is one of the greatest gifts God could ever give you, but at the same time, it’s also one of the most unpleasant. We talk about faith in positive terms—and we should—but it’s a gift in which the sinful flesh has absolutely no interest. Remember, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
In a sense, then, faith is being blind; it’s the conviction of things not seen. Faith is not having what you want—at least for now. But the flesh doesn’t want to hope, it wants to have! Faith is the opposite of instant gratification; faith is patient waiting. Yes, you have the certainty and conviction that you will receive what God promises, but you don’t have it yet. And even that conviction wavers.
Simon’s faith wasn’t perfect either. It was only after toiling all night and catching nothing that Jesus told him to put back down the nets. This was no small task; they had just had a long, frustrating night. Now, had anyone else told him to do this, Simon probably would have said that was the dumbest thing anyone had ever told him to do in his whole life! He’s probably thinking, “What does a carpenter know about fishing?” He even told Jesus, “Don’t you know we’ve been at this all night and caught nothing?” But out of respect for his Master, he said, “But at Your Word I will let down the nets,” (St. Luke 5:5).
Peter acted in faith, but only reluctantly. Jesus is constantly lamenting the “little faith” of His followers (e.g., St. Matthew 6:20).
Your sinful flesh is skeptical of God and His promises. Like Esau, who sold his inheritance for a bowl of stew, there are things for which you’d pawn off your salvation in a heartbeat (Genesis 25:25–24). Jesus says if you had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed you could move mountains (St. Matthew 17:20)! But you don’t. Even after everything happened just as God said it would—after the resurrection on the road to Emmaus—still the disciples were, as Jesus said, “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets [had] spoken,” (St. Luke 24:25).
Some of the best gifts you could ever receive are the least pleasant ones. Think about the “gift” God gave to St. Paul’s flesh. Three times the apostle pleaded with God to remove this thorn from his flesh, this “messenger of Satan”—but each time God said no (2 Cor. 12:7).
The thorns and trials God sends to us can make Him seem cruel, almost as if He enjoys watching us suffer. St. Paul pleaded with God to remove that thorn, but each time He said no. And it’s a good thing He didn’t. God gave him this thorn to keep [him] from becoming conceited (2 Cor. 12:7). He told the apostle it would teach him to rely more fully on His grace (v. 9).
Suffering is no fun. We plead with God—rightly so—to hear our cry and deliver us. But rarely do we cry out to God, rarely is our faith so alive and fervent as when we are hurting. Next to the Word and Sacraments, bearing the cross is best thing for our faith. Suffering is just as important to a healthy faith as prayer and Scripture.
Those who are satisfied have no need for faith. Going without is never pleasant, but Jesus blesses the poor, the sorrowful, and the hungry (St. Matthew 5:3–4, 6). He brings down the mighty from their thrones and rich He sends empty away (St. Luke 1:52–53).
The flesh wants to think that God will only give you what you want. While it is true that God will only give you good things, His definition of good doesn’t always match ours. Scripture promises that God will work all things for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). This means that even though God may afflict you with cancer or your loved ones with death, He will ultimately use even those things for your good. Faith is believing that God is good even when He looks like evil incarnate.
Sometimes people believe the devil’s lie that God will never give you more than you can handle. If anything, God will always give you more than you can handle. If He didn’t, you would have no idea how badly you need Him.
Think about Noah. The ordeal he’d just been through was terrifying. God had just unleashed His wrath with so much rain that it covered even the tallest mountains. Except for the eight people on the ark, everyone else died. There were plenty of animals on the ark that would have loved nothing more than eating Noah and his family for lunch. The physical danger and mental anguish Noah faced in those days was immense, to say the least.
Nor is it like the water suddenly vanished after the 40 days and nights of raining. Noah was out to sea for so long it seemed as if God had forgotten him! God finally did remember Noah (Genesis 8:1), but it took Him 150 days. That’s a long time; and all Noah had to sustain him during that time was God’s promise. The suffering we experience in this life can be profound, but God wills to use those times to draw us closer to Him and strengthen our faith.
Grace is another gift of God that the sinful flesh hates. Nobody likes getting help—we want to do everything for ourselves. Take the average 2-year-old, for instance: Even though he may have a limited vocabulary, one of his his favorite things to say is “I do it, I do it!”, even when he clearly can’t do something. But he’d rather try and fail—and end up with nothing—than have it done for him.
Adults are no different. One of the biggest fears adults have as they grow older is losing their independence. No adult wants to have to be fed by someone or to need help going to the bathroom. Many people would rather die than need that kind of help.
Faith and grace are gifts we don’t like because we don’t want to go without and we want to be able to do everything for ourselves. You might think indulging your sinful desires will make you happy, but it won’t. The world says “don’t struggle. Life is short, so you should do whatever makes you happy,” but Christ calls you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and live in daily contrition in repentance.
There is no question about the intensity of sexual desire—things like our economy, marketing, the sports and entertainment industry, not to mention a good deal of what we say, think, and do—are all driven, to a large degree, by sex. But rather than struggle against impure desires and repent, we opt for instant gratification. Chastity just isn’t as fun as indulging, and it’s never fun to have to tell someone “no”, so we lie to ourselves and act like there’s nothing wrong with pornography, divorce, premarital cohabitation, pre-marital sex, or homosexual marriage.
Everyone is born with impure sexual desires. Not every impulse is godly; most of them aren’t. Every 1st grader knows that just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Yet, when it comes to certain sins we seem to revert back to preschool logic: “Whatever makes you happy.” According to Jesus, true blessedness is found in self-denial, not self-gratification.
We usually try to avoid the really bad sins—well, murder, mostly, but that’s only because we’re afraid of the legal consequences, not because we’ve never wanted to kill someone or because we’re afraid of offending God. We should be afraid of offending God. He threatens to punish all who break His Commandments. Therefore we must repent.
Remember, God’s will is always good. When God says not to commit adultery it’s like He’s saying not to pour salt in your wound. You are always better off doing what God wants, even though that’s never what the sinful flesh wants.
It’s exactly the opposite of the way we think, but God uses the most painful experiences to bless us. Consider the fact that God’s method of bringing life and salvation to the world involved what sounds more like a tragic front page headline about human brutality and injustice than anything that sounds even remotely like “good news.”
God accomplished the greatest blessing of all—earning your salvation—by allowing an innocent man to be tortured and killed for crimes He didn’t commit. And not just any man, but the Eternal Son of God Incarnate in human flesh. He came unto His own, but His own received Him not (St. John 1:11). Jesus’ death on the cross seemed at the time like worst thing that ever could have happened, so much worse than the fishing disaster in our Gospel for today. The agony of Holy Week probably made the disciples wish they’d never left their nets behind in the first place.
Even though our faith wavers under difficulty and is practically non-existent the rest of the time, Jesus continues to uphold and sustain us. Compared with Jesus’ love for us, our doubt is the size of a mustard seed.
Jesus had no doubts about the Father’s goodness even though He suffered more profoundly than any other person in the history of the world—and that at His hands of His Father. The Father had never looked more like Satan; indeed, we could say that God and Satan cooperated together in the crucifixion. Though the crucifixion was the greatest act of injustice the world has ever known, still Jesus trusted in the goodness of His Father, knowing that somehow He would work even this for His glory and the good of those who love Him.
When you’re tempted to think that God is evil incarnate, remember that Christ took on human flesh out of pure love for you, and then suffered and died on the cross for your sin. By His faith, your doubt is forgiven. He works all things together for your good. His greatest blessings often come through the most painful experiences—the cross is proof of that. Despite whatever pain you’ve suffered in this life, still you are here today to commune with Jesus in spite of the fact that you can’t see Him.
Your faith may be imperfect and smaller than a mustard seed, but that’s enough for Jesus. Go in peace; the Lord is with you.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.