February 23, 2020

Do We Really Want God to Intervene?

Wheat & Weedsphoto © 2006 Jenny Bauman | more info (via: Wylio)By Chaplain Mike

In today’s worship, we heard the Gospel parable from Matthew 13 about the wheat and the weeds.

Jesus told them another parable:
The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field. One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up.
The man’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?”
“It was some enemy who did this,” he answered.
“Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?” they asked him.
“No,” he answered, “because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.” (13:24-30, GNT)

The text goes on to record other parables as well: about a tiny mustard seed that grows up into a huge plant, and about yeast that is mixed into a bowl of flour and causes it to rise.

What do these parables tell us about the nature of God’s Kingdom that has dawned in Jesus?

Whispering Wheatphoto © 2005 Matthew F | more info (via: Wylio)These stories speak of a process.

These wisdom tales stress waiting.

These parables are about patience.

These talks envision a timetable.

They tell us God’s work is often hidden, that he is acting in ways that are real but may not be evident immediately.

They warn us that our zeal for acting with a view toward results now, may be misguided.

Coming home after worship, I sought some further insight from Tom Wright about these parables, and I was challenged by what I read in his Matthew for Everyone guide:

“Why doesn’t God do something?”

That is perhaps the most frequent question that people ask Christian leaders and teachers—and those of some other faiths, too. Tragedies happen. Horrific accidents devastate lives and families. Tyrants and bullies force their own plans on people and crush opposition, and they seem to get away with it. And sensitive souls ask, again and again, why is God apparently silent? Why doesn’t he step in and stop it?

These parables are not a direct answer to the question, and probably no direct answer can be given in this life. But they show, through the various different stories, that God’s sovereign rule over the world isn’t quite such a straightforward thing as people sometimes imagine.

Would people really like it if God were to rule the world directly and immediately, so that our every thought and action were weighed, and instantly judged and if necessary punished, in the scales of his absolute holiness? If the price of God stepping in and stopping a campaign of genocide were that he would have to rebuke and restrain every other evil impulse, including those we all still know and cherish within ourselves, would we be prepared to pay that price? If we ask God to act on special occasions, do we really suppose that he could do that simply when we want him to, and then back off again for the rest of the time.

Now those are good questions.

Wright suggests that Jesus wanted his own followers first to hear these words. It may be hard for us to grasp how enthusiastic they must have been to be walking with the Lord as he demonstrated daily the Messianic age breaking in to the present. How like the servants in the parable they must have been! Lord, do you want us to run out and finish the job, weed out the bad stuff, call down fire on those who don’t get it?

He also says Jesus may have had a special word for the zealots in mind here, the radical groups who were “longing for God to act, and were prepared to help him by acting themselves” through direct and perhaps violent revolutionary action.

Like the farmer in the parable, however, God sees a bigger picture. He knows there is a time for harvest. A process must come to completion. The crop must come to maturity. Wright remarks that God must not enjoy looking out on his wheat fields and seeing the weeds that have infiltrated it. However, he is also smart enough to know that ripping out the tares at this time in the process would involve destroying good plants as well, thus diminishing the harvest to come.

Harvest Homephoto © 2009 Brian Forbes | more info (via: Wylio)On the other hand, as a good teacher, Tom Wright exhorts us to consider another perspective. Taking the long view should not lead us to excuse ourselves from proper activity now on behalf of the Kingdom. There is patience and there is procrastination. We may take the long view but this does not justify laziness. When the crops are growing, there is no “off season.” Successful farmers always find something productive to do.

Just so, there is a proper theological tension between the already and the not yet. In this tension God’s people are called to trust and obey, to participate in God’s mission of extending compassion and standing against evil and injustice today, while we wait for God’s tomorrow.

There is a highly personal side to all of this too, Wright suggests.

Do we really want God to intervene and judge evil?

I fear we do—in a highly selective sort of way. We want him to take care of the evil out there, those aspects of life in a fallen world that cause us distress in mind, body, and spirit.

But do we want him to deal with the evil in here, in our own hearts and lives? We ourselves are fields sown with a mixture of wheat and weeds. Are we ready for him to step in, in the midst of the sanctification process, to rip those weeds out of our lives? Or are we glad that God enlists us in a process of following, gives us time, and works patiently with us? Aren’t we glad that it is about a relationship that grows, develops, and matures? Aren’t we glad that it is about an organic process of life rather than a blunt intervention which crushes the good with the bad?

Farmer knows best.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

• Psalm 103: 8-19 (NIV)

Comments

  1. colon britt" says

    That is very interesting. I have never heard it put that way. most of the time when I have heard it preached, it is usually done with the idea that you might be a “weed” sitting in Church and you think that you are “wheat”. So usually it turns into are you really saved or not passage. I enjoyed reading this, it gives me a new prespective.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      So usually it turns into are you really saved or not passage.

      “Are You Sure? Are You Certain? Are You Sure You’re Certain? Are You Certain You’re Sure You’re Certain? Are You Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure You’re…”

      When all you have is an Altar Call Hammer…

  2. Mike, what a wonderful meditation. I praise God for the wisdom he gives to you and others (like Wright).

    Only the harvester knows the time and the way of harvest. We thank Him for His patience with us. Surely he sees more weeds in our lives than we can imagine.

  3. Thank you. Good words.

    I recently read how God is infinitely near while being infinitely far away. I realized that both can make us uncomfortable. When the godless go unpunished, we wonder why God seems so distant; when our personal sin or blind spots are revealed, or we are experiencing a trial, we wonder why God is picking on us. But it also reminds me of the movie, “Lady Hawk”, in which Isabeau is cursed to be a hawk by day and Navarre are wolf by night, and only for an instant each day see each other as they truly are. Knowing God is like that, where he seems so far away, leaving us to feel alone and estranged, but briefly we see glimmers of him in our daily lives and touch him briefly in the sacraments. Discipline is never fun, but we should be thankful, because it is another brief encounter when God draws near to us.

  4. Incredible, CM. I read the Ruth study first this morning, then this…Thanks for being in tune with the word, and blessing us all.

  5. For me, taking comfort in the fact that God chooses to not intervene in my personal misguided failings is not a very good counterpoint to why he seems totally silent in all things. To be honest, his intervention seems not so much selective but rather totally detached. I understand the desire to see God’s hand in the good things that happen in life, but I can’t overcome the thought that it’s just my hopeful interpretation of random events.

  6. i think consideration some of what Eagle regularly mentions he struggles with…

    i think most responders here @ iMonk view natural disasters or tragic accidents as being neutral events that are not directly ’caused’ by God for deliberate punitive reasons…

    i feel Eagle has the bigger issues though with God’s seemingly lack of intervention when it is people that choose to do evil deliberately. it is this human choice issue, whether it is used for good or evil, that has most of us wondering what God considers worth-the-risk in allowing humans the power of horrific acts of abuse to the innocent. but then we must consider the same power to do great good also is part of that arrangement or design in this divine equation…

    that fact that more people are not struck down while driving their cars or planes dropping from the sky on a very regular basis has me believing that yes, God is very, very patient & sees the immediate issues of any one event from a far grander perspective than we will ever be privileged to…

  7. Thank you for the timely reminder, CM. So often I wonder why God doesn’t stop the evil “out there,” when the bigger question is why He doesn’t stop me from speaking a harsh word; or spending my money foolishly; or reacting in anger to someone. Thanks for bringing it home!

  8. Wright, as usual, is right on target. The ‘field’ is the ‘world’ (place, not ‘evil people’). God’s kingdom has invaded the world and until the end of the age, the kingdom (wheat) and what most call ‘the world’ (non-believers, weeds) will exist in the field (the world). God will bring his judgment in his time, and bring in true justice and righteousness (however all that plays out in the end).

    We used to belong to a church where the pastor constantly emphasized what was wrong with all ‘those people’ and how we need to fix it – usually political solutions (or I suspect more ‘direct’ action in some cases). Jesus reminded his disciples (including one zealot!) that God would sort things out in his time. However, as Wright points out, that doesn’t mean we just retreat to our bunkers and wait for the end, though that comes not from this parable, but Jesus’ other teachings (justice, mercy, etc.). Finding the balance is the tough part, but I’m pretty sure the judgment stuff is not our job (as James reminds his readers who were facing injustices and wanted to do just that – 1:19-20).

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I believe Lewis wrote some on this subject. Something like “We want God to step in and end all war, yet leave us indulging our favorite secret sins. God doesn’t work like that. When God steps in to end sin, He will End All Sin.” All or Nothing.

  10. Josh in FW says

    I didn’t have the time to read this when it was first posted. I’m so glad I came back to it.

  11. Do we really want God to intervene and judge evil?

    Is that all God can do: judge? If so, no thanks: we can manage that bit. Humanity is on the market for a God who can actually solve evil. A rescuer if you will. A saviour. That’s what God used to be, before He mysteriously stopped being it.