Rev. Richard C. Hulbert: Good people happening to bad things... living faithfully in a time of crisis

Rev. Richard C. Hulbert: Good people happening to bad things... living faithfully in a time of crisis

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Living faithfully in good times comes naturally. Faithful living is hope-driven living. It is rooted in our embracing the goodness of life, the goodness of others, and trust that, as Paul said, in all things God works together for good. But in times of crisis, especially those which impact us personally, faithful living can be challenging. In these times, many people experience what some call “a crisis of faith.”

For most of us, there has rarely been a time when in the midst of joy or contentment, a dark cloud has not lurked somewhere in the background in our daily lives. It seems there is always something to worry about, moments of panic, even moments of existential fear about our own lives or the lives of those close to us.

In the extreme, the dark cloud can overcome us and we experience a crisis of faith. This seems to be rooted in our belief that good people should not suffer and a God who truly loves would remove “the cup” of suffering from us.

Christians are reminded of the foreboding in Jesus’ life that allows us to identify with him in very real ways as we enter holy week. On Palm Sunday, we were reminded of jubilant and oppressed peasant adults and children waving palms before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey in a final challenge to the power of Rome.

Having taught his disciples that in the Kingdom of God love conquers all, his ministry was being fulfilled in a week of unthinkable events. The scene portrays Jesus as resolute in his final act that will displace the Roman emperor who actually claimed for himself the titles of god, the prince of peace, and the savior of mankind. In time, however, Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire. For Jesus this was faithful living in a time of crisis for the Jewish people.

But as the week progressed, Jesus’ humanity was on display. The Gospel accounts portray Jesus as flirting with a crisis of faith. According to the Gospels, he approached this moment with the dark cloud of dread and foreboding, certainly fear. On the evening before his execution we learn of the highly emotional event in the Garden of Gethsemane during which he seemed to plead with God to remove the cup of suffering from him.

Moreover, during his execution, we can almost hear his cry of anguish and pain as he seemed to scream “my God, why are you forsaking me”. We also know that Jesus did not succumb to his momentary doubts. He did not abandon his faith. We read the words “nevertheless not my will but thine be done” and his granting God’s forgiveness of the criminals being executed at the same time.

Today, we are living through one of the greatest crises of the modern world. We refer to it as “coronavirus.” When we cough or sneeze, we fear we are infected. We are told to stay away from crowds and keep distance from individuals. We read about potential consequences of recession or even depression among many impacts on life as we know it. We try to follow the advice of qualified data driven medical scientists and informed spokespeople. We despair when others are not taking this advice seriously.

This is our new reality as our world stumbles into summer, usually a wonderful time of year. Perhaps now as never before, we can identify with the foreboding, anxiety, and fear that Jesus undoubtedly experienced as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem and lived through the events of holy week.

As in Jesus’ life, so it is with our lives 2020 years later. A dark cloud of fear and foreboding has taken up residence in our lives. We are told that in our country alone, there is potential for 100,000 to 200,000 deaths and millions more worldwide resulting from this disease.

We know that we can feel fine, may never have symptoms, yet carry and transmit the virus to others. We realize that no one is immune – babies, children, young adults, adults and senior adults. There are no racial or national or ethnic exceptions. Those who do not take this disease seriously are endangering not only our own lives but those of others. Every dimension of our lives is upended. We cannot even imagine what life will be like when the pandemic is over.

Can we live faithfully, embody the of light of hope, in our circumstances? Some say no. This is God’s punishment for a faithless world. But I wonder if they really understand the nature of the God, who after the flood, promised “never again” to punish his people.

I wonder if they really understand the nature of God who is revealed in Jesus’ life of forgiveness and trust in the goodness of God and creation. To view the current pandemic as punishment is to reveal a crisis of faith that seems to be our default in times of crisis. and his people in the OT and NT?

Let us count ourselves among the community of faith that is called to embody the light of hope. Let us not lose sight of how the shocking events that occurred on that first Palm Sunday and during the week that followed culminated in an experience of resurrection, reminding us that in creation light always follows darkness. The resurrection experience was for Jesus’s disciples and for us today the realization that trust conquers all fear and that love is not just a nice idea in good times but a way of life that delivers us and others to a better place. Let us in that spirit encourage and support one-another.

We can of course waste our time in Socratic philosophizing about why bad things happen to good people. Instead, I am comforted by the knowledge that as a member of the community of faith, I am among good people who are happening to bad things, and whose lives demonstrate the truth of our faith. Goodness always prevails.

Richard C. Hulbert, Master of Divinity, Vanderbilt University, United Methodist Minister (ret’d). Former pastor Covenant UMC and executive director of Bridges, Inc., retired VP - Xerox Inc., owner Rick Hulbert, Associates, LLC.

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