Solomon is now looking carefully at life in the breath. He has considered that only God can bring beauty into the life because he has appointed every season and time for his purposes. Yet when Solomon looks carefully into the breath, he sees much that is not beautiful, in fact, much that is ugly. Solomon is a realist, it doesn’t do to ignore the harsh realities of life, but he knows the must be explored, discerned. He’s not running from the hard questions, but realizes that if he really wants to make full sense of life, he’s got to evaluate both the good and the bad.
This brings us to the problem of evil - for Solomon observes much that would be fittingly described as evil. If God is sovereign over all things - does this mean that he is also sovereign over evil? Solomon in this chapter pears into the problem of what we might call institutional or structural evil - evil that corrupts our social systems, specifically he considers our systems of justice and economics. What’s the problem with these two systems - we are. We made them and we use them and we are used by them.
In Genesis 16, Moses warns us that the potential to be the oppressor lay within us all. He does this by telling us Abram and Sarai's oppression of Hagar, their Egyptian maidservant, causing her to flee into the wilderness, just as the children of Abraham fled from their Egyptian oppressors. God reveals himself to Hagar in the wilderness through his angel, comforting her with the truth that He sees and hears her in her pain, before sending her back with a message to her oppressor that God also sees and hears them in their sin. The sermon concludes with a letter found at the Gospel Coalition Australia website of a word to perpetrators of domestic abuse (https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/a-letter-to-husbands-who-abuse-their-wives/).To understand this, story, I want to tell you another.
Tell the story of Israel’s oppression and God’s deliverance.
If Israel in the wilderness could go back and comfort the victims in their oppression, what truth would they desire them to understand? God hears. God sees.
If Israel in the wilderness could go back and confront their oppressor, what truth would they desire Pharaoh to understand. God hears? God sees.
The world needs a robust understanding injustice and suffering, otherwise we will inevitably prescribe the wrong cure for our pain. I remember that before I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, the doctor initially though that I needed to go on a high fibre diet. So I was eating tons of breads and grains, in other words, tons of gluten! It was making my condition worse. Jesus understood how discouraging this world could be, and in teaching us to pray did not evade or avoid this human reality, but taught us to pray in a way that faces injustice and suffering head on. This is of course the second petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come.”
These past few years have seen the role of law enforcement spark controversy in various communities. While African American communities have always had what could be charitably described as an “uneasy” relationship with government authorities, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was significant, for as I observed last week, while there have been many eras throughout world history that could be characterized as an “age of rage” the internet has brought the rage home to many of us, almost to an overwhelming degree. After Trayvon there was Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatters became a movement, and a polarizing one at that. Those who defended the police as those who are trying to do an impossible job, employed the counter hashtag #bluelivesmatter, and lines were drawn in the sand.
This all corresponded with the rise of Donald Trump, who promised to restore law and order in American cities as part of his pledge to make America Great Again, and after his unlikely victory protests erupted in various american cities, sometimes erupting in violence as we saw last month in Charlottesville between the Alt-Right and Antifa, and sometimes it seems that anarchy rules on the streets. If America is a boiling pot, there are times when the waters spill over into Canada. The alt-right is here. Antifa is here. The anarchists are here. the government is here.
I don’t bring this up today to be sensational or to try to preach from the newspapers. But only to state that there are serious questions being asked today about the legitimacy of government to enforce laws and the manner in which our governments in particular enforce the law, and as Christians we not only live in this nation under the law, but we work with and go to school with and drink coffee in the shop with people who either distrust or defend, or sometimes detest the government and law enforcement, and we get in conversations, in which people may ask us, what do you think, and so often our answer as Christians is, I try not to get involved in all that.