One time I had a student who was late to every class. No matter how hard she tried she just couldn’t get to class on time. She confessed that she was late to everything, her work, doctor appointments, etc. No matter how hard she tried she just couldn’t arrive anyplace on time.
One of her teachers told her he would give her an “A” for his course if she would just arrive on time the last day of class. The next day of her class she set her alarm early, laid out her clothing the night before, and left for class 20 minutes early. She was less than a mile from the college when she could go no further. This particular morning she was stopped by a train. She kept glancing at her watch, hoping the train would be past in just a few minutes. But, the train stopped dead on the tracks. She was stopped in traffic with cars in front of her and behind her, so there was no chance of taking an alternate route.
To make matters worse she was stopped under an overpass where a road crew was working on the bridge above her. Suddenly, without any warning, a huge block of cement crashed on the hood of her car. It scared the daylights out of her. Not only would she be late for class, she now had a huge dent in her car. She said, “What was the point in being early when my attempt to be on time caused damage to my car?”
You have to admit, she had a good argument. She altered her normal routine to earn that “A” in her class. She was trying to do the “right” thing, but in the process she experienced an unfortunate accident. Some would say, “What good is it to believe or have faith, when bad things still happen?” I imagine it’s a question we all ask at times and there are no simple explanations.
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There are people in society who will try to give you explanations for the terrible things that happen. For example; Jerry Fallwell rationalized that the tragedy of 9/11 happened because of all the homosexuals living in NewYork City. He later apologized and said he really didn’t mean to say that. I hear people do this all the time. We have a need to connect the bad things in life with some misbehavior or sin. Or, we want to believe that the bad things that happen are God’s punishment.
People of faith want to believe that their faith is like an insurance policy, that because they “believe” nothing bad will happen to them. Or, when something bad happens they say their faith wasn’t strong enough. They play the “if only” game…. “If I had only believed more, if I had only loved more, if I had only followed all the rules.”
The letter of I John was written to believers who wanted to be connected to God and strengthen their faith. But, they were being misled by false teachers. There was confusion about what it meant to be people of faith and the faith community was struggling to be a cohesive group of people. Also, the way they treated others was not with neighborly love. What they needed was some concrete teaching, only not the kind that came crashing down on my student’s car.
Some would want to say that my student’s car got hit by a block of cement because she was being punished. It was God’s way of warning her not to be late any more. Folks who think like this believe they can read God’s mind. But, the writer of I John tells us (4:1) to “test the spirits.” In other words, make sure that the voices we are listening to are sincere. Those who offer simple explanations for the difficulties of life could be misleading you.
Some want you to believe that all you need to do is follow a list of do’s and don’ts. Others suggest that there is some formula you have to abide by that will make you a believer. Television preachers tend to fit into one of these categories. Remember, I John wants us to test the spirits. One way to do that is to observe one’s humility and also their love for others.
The writer of I John states that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”(4:4) To have faith means we don’t always understand. God is much bigger than we are. God’s ways are beyond our ability to understand everything that happens. I don’t know why my student had the unfortunate experience of a cement block fall on her car. All I know is that on the last day of my class, she was there before I was.
To have faith is to trust even when things happen that make no sense. A man was walking the streets of Philadelphia searching for employment. He finally found Girard, a well known businessman. He offered to give the man a job. He said, “See that pile of bricks over there? Cary them to the other end of the yard and pile them by the fence.” By nightfall the man had finished the job. He then asked if there would be work the next day. Girard told him to come back tomorrow and he would give him another job. The man returned the next morning and Girard told him to carry the same pile of bricks he had stacked the day before by the fence to their original spot. He never said a word. He did exactly as he was instructed. It became evident to Girard that he could trust the man and therefore he gave him a full time position.
God wants us to realize that there are things we don’t understand, yet God alone is in charge of the big picture. Faith is trusting in God when we don’t know what the outcome will be.
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, who wrote, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said that the ways of God cannot always be explained. The challenge for us is to continue to love God (and others) even when something bad happens to us. When we can do that we have faith.
Secondly, faith and love are one in the same. I John states that love is “truth in action.” (3:18) And, in (3:9) it reads, “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.” I John goes on to say (4:7-8) “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
When you are using a computer and the site you are looking at has a link, you click your mouse and the link immediately takes you to a sight that is related. I believe this is what the writer of I John is trying to tell us. Jesus is the link that leads to God. Love is the link that leads to faith.
First, we need to “test the spirits,” ensuring that the voices we listen to are genuine and sincere. Secondly, faith and love are inseparable, they are linked together. To have faith is to be a person who loves. To love is to be a person of faith. And third, the writer of I John gives us hope. For in (5:4) it reads, “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” Faith is not an insurance policy. Faith is no guarantee that life will make you exempt from problems and tragedies. Faith, according to I John, is what helps us to overcome whatever problem or crisis that we might experience.
We can overcome anything when we keep loving. Having faith through love is what enables us to “conquer” the world. Perhaps the following story will best illustrate the full meaning of I John. One day, a boy at summer camp received a box of cookies from his mother. He ate a few, then placed the box under his bed. The next day, he discovered the cookies were gone. Later, a counselor, who had been told of the theft, saw a boy sitting behind a tree, eating the stolen cookies. He sought out the victim and said, “Bill, I know who stole your cookies. Will you help me teach him a lesson?”
The boy replied, “Well, I guess, but aren’t you going to punish him?” The counselor said, “Not directly, that would only make him hate you. I have an idea; but first I want you to ask your mother to send you some more cookies.” The boy did as the counselor asked, and a few days later, another box of cookies arrived. The counselor then said, “The boy who stole your cookies is down by the lake. I suggest you go down there and share your cookies with him.” The boy protested, “But he’s the one who stole the first ones form me!” “I know,” said the counselor, “But let’s see what happens.”
An hour later, the counselor saw the boys coming up the hill, the thief earnestly trying to get his new friend to accept his compass in payment for the stolen cookies. And the victim was just as adamantly refusing, saying that, “A few old cookies didn’t matter all that much.”
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”