I have quit watching the news. Or listening to it, or reading about it. Since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I just haven’t been able to take it. Still, one catches glimpses. Like the other day, when the Washington Post ran a front page, above the fold picture of a poor pelican, covered in oil, leaning against a person, with the caption, “Sometimes the hardest thing is knowing that you can’t save these animals.”
Indeed we can’t save these animals. Nor, apparently, can we cap a well. But be that as it may, the real truth of the human condition emerges in its oily, pathetic truth: we can’t save ourselves. We are in way over our heads, in the gulf and in life.
God has a way of teaching this truth to every generation. One of my favorite stories is about a prophet named Eli. He had a bunch of sons, whom he had spoiled, apparently, for they grew up to be jerks. He also had a younger son (adopted, another great story), Samuel, who was very attentive to him. One night, Samuel kept waking up, hearing a voice. He went to Eli three times before Eli realized what was happening, and said, “When it happens again, say: Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” So poor Samuel does just that, and God rewards Samuel by giving him a grim message to give to Eli: you and your sons will be punished for your evil ways. The next day, at Eli’s insistence, Samuel tells him what God has said. Eli, shrugging his shoulders, says, “It is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him.”
Eli, apparently, was a person who has learned (in Alcoholics Anonymous parlance) to let go and let God. Maybe he’d had a go at trying to save distressed pelicans. Or possibly his repeated efforts to help his sons had taught him the both the futility of trying to rescue others and his own complicity in the problem. But he had learned more than that. He had learned to trust God with life. Once he recognized that the Lord would be in whatever was going to happen, he quit worrying about it.
Once he recognized that the Lord would be in it. That’s the challenge, at least for me. When something goes wrong, (like the Gulf coast), it’s hard for me to see God as a part of it. I struggle in vain against evil that is bigger than me, discouraged by my own powerlessness and unable to see that it’s already in God’s hands, and will be dealt with in God’s time. It’s like getting stuck at Good Friday, seeing Jesus on the cross, instead of moving on to Easter morning: seeing Jesus as our risen Lord, and seeing that the cross itself was used to fulfill God’s purposes.
The challenge for us as human beings is to recognize injustice but to stay focused in what we can do about it. If the women close to Jesus had been so overwelmed by the injustice of the hated Roman empire, who would have gone to care for Jesus' body - whom would the angel have declared the message of the resurrection to? If people are so distraught about the gulf of Mexico that they simply quit trying, how does the message of the damage done and the chance to change our ways make it to the cover of the Washington Post? So it's a balance, and the old saying, think globally but act locally, continues to be true. The opposite, to fret and worry one's days away, only misses what God would have one be and do.
Nothing – in whatever Hell we’ve made on earth – is beyond God’s redeeming power through Christ. So it really is okay to read the papers, and watch the news, keeping in mind the love of God at all times and in all places. And when the trouble is personal, when it’s a beloved friend or family member, and especially when it’s one’s own child, for that’s when a person can count on God in a unique way. God happens to be the one who loves our children even more than we do. Yes sometimes God has a funny way of showing it, from our vantage point. But in the end, all will work for good, and watching for signs of God at work in the present moment – for signs of heaven on earth – is what faith is all about.