This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Adders’ eggs and spiders’ webs

What is the relationship between humans “be­getting iniquity” and God as a driving force in the world? Why do saints suffer and sinners prosper? The psalmist nearly lost his faith over that one. Who can make theological sense out of the world’s chaotic conditions? Can we find answers in Isaiah and Jeremiah?

Miller
Miller

The problem is not God’s inability, says Isaiah. “The Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (59:1). The problem, Isaiah says in the backdrop to our text, is Israel’s sins. He catalogs them. Violence is commonplace. Lies abound. Righteousness is beyond reach. “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.”

God, he concludes, “will come to Zion as a Redeemer to those in Jacob who turn from their sins.” In Isaiah’s theology, God will step into the desperate situation when God’s people turn from their wicked ways.

Jeremiah sounds a similar theme. God’s blessing won’t come to those who are publicly pious with repeated cries of “the temple of the Lord.” Rather, God will come to those who truly amend their ways and “act justly with one another,” who “do not oppress the alien, the orphan and the widow or go after other gods.” The Lord will dwell with them in the land given to their ancestors.

All well and good if we didn’t have to fit the prophetic word to the realities of the world we live in. Events don’t seem to align with the prophetic promise.

In April 2014, 273 girls were kidnapped from a school built by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reports say that of 234 girls rescued from Boko Haram, 214 are pregnant. I find no evidence that these girls, their families or the church that nurtured them in the gospel were guilty of the sins Isaiah and Jeremiah attribute to Israel.

In 1981, Rabbi Harold Kushner published When Bad Things Happen to Good People. “The whole point of his book is to say God is all-loving but not all-powerful, that God is good but not sovereign,” states Bible commentary writer David Guzik. “So, when bad things happen to good people, it is because events are out of God’s control. Kushner advises his readers to learn to love [God] and forgive him despite his limitations.” Guzik concludes that Kushner’s God is not the God we read about in the Bible.

How do we reconcile the theology of Isaiah and Jeremiah with the realities of our world? We need to wrestle with this incongruity by consideration of balancing truths of Scripture.

Jesus said God sends his rain on the just and the unjust alike. The 18 on whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not more evil than others in Jerusalem. According to Jesus, a simplistic theology that all evil will be punished and nothing bad will happen to good people is inadequate.

It’s also true that evil brings its own consequences and righteousness has its rewards. God comes as a redeeming power in the midst of evil in society.

The church in Nigeria is seeking to minister to the abused bodies and wounded spirits of the girls who were kidnapped as they face the trauma and ongoing burden of their abuse. God is in that.

In the midst of the evil in the world, through the voice of Jeremiah, God calls us to change our ways. God responds to human obedience. “Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place” (Jer. 7:3).

I have no easy explanation of how God acts in our world filled with adders’ eggs and spiders’ webs (Isaiah 59:5). However, we can respond to God’s call through the prophet to act righteously. Ultimately “the pent-up stream that the wind of the Lord drives on” (Isaiah 59:19) will prevail.

John M. Miller, of Leola, Pa., served with his wife, Doris, as a missionary in Mexico and taught missions and social ethics in seminaries. He is a member of Stumptown Mennonite Church.

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