Jesus said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
We live in a crisis of faith, in which the fastest-growing identifiable religious groups are those who indicate no attachment to any religious tradition when asked by pollsters. I have talked through the years with more than one person who left the church, and have heard a variety of reasons for it. Some cannot bear the hypocrisy (endemic in every human community), the occasional dysfunction (part of life) or changes in theology or interpretation (which happen in every age). More significant to me is that many keep or make a distance from the church because of a finely tuned sense of justice.
They wonder why the young get sick, why the reckless and thoughtless survive, and why so many terrible things happen in the world. Thinking on these things might lead to doubt about the efficacy of prayer, the worthiness of God, and the usefulness of life in faith and in a faith community. Such a path can lead into the solitary and looser spiritual life more people are claiming.
They have a point. Life indeed is hard, and there are tragedies, and the ultimate reasons that things happen are shrouded in mystery. Christian people bear such things in faith, with a sense of God’s providential purposes being ultimately borne out. Some look at the same evidence and decide the life of faith isn’t worth it, doesn’t explain enough, doesn’t make sense of their experience, and they move on or never come in. I regret it and yet am moved to ask the same questions. I cannot entirely explain why I have faith in the face of the same data.
If they did come in, however, they would hear that Jesus recognizes the struggle. God, he said, “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” God cares for the evil and the good. Two farmers, neighbors in the same district, one a cheater, extortionist and adulterer; the other a model of purity and charity; on them alike the sun shines and the rain falls. God does not withhold the goodness of the creation from those who do wrong. God does not necessarily bless the morally excellent with some extra dose of good things. Jesus knew it and was not afraid to admit it.
The Lord might want us to understand something about the mercy of God here, that God’s favor is not restrained by our disobedience, that God’s strong will to love is not turned even by our evil. You know how hard it is to escape the sun’s rays in summer in South Carolina; you know how soaked you can be if caught in a spring shower without your umbrella and rain jacket. The good and loving will of God is like that; it is impossible to avoid and finds even those who devote themselves to avoiding it by their deeds.
It seems we sometimes wish for a God less generous, a God less merciful, a God more demanding of holiness, a God quicker to punish the obviously wicked. I wish for such a God, sometimes, when I feel wronged or when I think of the tyrants under whom too many suffer. I do not wish for such a God, however, when I think on my own sins. My own failures lead me to ponder a God who lets the rain and sun of his love find even me.
We who endure in the household of faith, in the Body of Christ, mean to stand on generous ground, to love even enemies and those who do evil, to remember that we stand on the same ground as they do, under the same sun, in the same rain; even that sometimes we are them.
Nicholas Beasley is rector at Resurrection Episcopal in Greenwood. He can be reached at 864-223-5426.