Why'd you do that!

Jul. 02, 2017

Gen. 22.1-14; Ro 6.12-23; Mt 10.40-42

The great scientist Albert Einstein said, "How strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why" about a lot of things. And on top of that I think since the beginning of civilization we humans have been looking at other humans wondering over and over again, "Why did they do that?" Human motivation and human behavior are always complicated. And despite the fact that we all do our best to form a correct and accurate view of others' motivations and reasoning, we nevertheless often form distorted views to answer the question, "Why'd they do that?"

For example, I've never figured out why my neighbor who every Saturday morning at 6 AM, sometimes in the winter when it wasn't even light, will invariably get out his lawn mower and leaf blower. The cacophony sounds is like a hundred angry musicians all trying all at once to tune their instruments! (Another neighbor of mine calls him the "yard Nazi" because of his apparent determination to prevent anyone else in the immediate neighborhood from sleeping in, which seems inconsiderate at the least and diabolical at the worst.) Or maybe he's just actually not able to sleep and that means nobody else will either. When I see him drive by my house I want to say what my Mother used to say to curb the rowdiness of her four boys. She'd say in a low baritone voice, "BEHAVE!"

I think gender plays an important role in such behavior too. The great psychiatrist Sigmund Freud often asked the profound question, "What does a woman want?" But, one could just as easily ask, "What does a man want?" Misunderstanding is rampant. Consider the case of the wife who gave her husband the silent treatment for an entire week only to have him break the silence by saying, "You know, we've been getting along pretty well this week, don't you think?" But misunderstanding is about more than gender.

What causes us to do the things we do? We don't know exactly. St Paul was so frustrated by this question that he said, "I do not do what I want to do, but I do the very thing that I don't want to do. The good that I want to do, I do not do and the very things I don't want to do, I do"! So, why do we do of all that?

Believe me, if we have difficulty explaining human thoughts and behavior, how much more difficult is it to explain the ways of God. As God said through the prophet Isaiah, "my ways are not your ways, and my deeds are not your deeds, for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so are my ways above your ways." OK, I can buy that, but how are we to comprehend the conundrum and paradox that the patriarch Abraham faced when he was told by God, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."  That would make my heart break into a million pieces, but Abraham moved forward to comply with God's request like the mule that carried him over three days to the mountain where he was to sacrifice his beloved child. It was one of those, "Damned if you do and damned if you don't" situations. If Abraham had faith in and love for this God who'd given him this child in his old age, then he must be able to trust God and do as directed. (But what kind of God would ask a father to kill his own child? I don't think that Abraham allowed his mind to weigh that question.) Child sacrifice was common in the ancient world. In fact, some commentators explain that the reason this passage is in Genesis is to show the uprightness of a God who bids his people to stop this hideous and brutal practice. This passage may actually illustrate God's opposition to child sacrifice.

But there are other dimensions to this anguished story. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." God must have had a reason to ask Abraham to live through the anguish of this situation, but the reasons are unclear at best. Scripture says it was a test. I'm not sure it's a test that many of us would pass. There are too many misattributions that can be made between the Abraham story and our lives to simply say, "You gotta have faith." That would not just be simplistic, but wrong.

There have been so many times when both you and I have prayed that the angel would be there to allay the executioner's knife from our family or friends who were imperiled. Faith does not guarantee that the worst in life will not happen. But faith does bring us to the place where we can go beyond our druthers to believe that God is a logical presence in our world. That means that God can and will help us work out the puzzlements and problems we face. I have sat with people who held their dead babies, who asked "Why?" I have cried with victims of violence. I have wondered how St Paul's affirmation that "all things work together for good for those who love the Lord" could possibly be true. Sometimes life is just about moving forward believing that God does go with us into the valley of the shadow of death. It's about believing in God's "amazing grace". Sometimes we don't know the reasons behind God's reasoning, but faith calls us to believe that whatever falls on us, or when we lose the little bit that we had hoped to savor in a quiet moment, when it was taken away...that there will be a divine justice...a measure for measure. Faith says there's a soothing presence that will heal us, help us, and relieve us of our anguish. It is the Lord...the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who bids us to believe, and to hope, and to understand why we are here...to love and serve the Lord. AMEN

The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS