“Love for the Mission”
February 7, 2021
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-24; 27-31
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
This is the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany and we continue our journey as we are being called to manifest the goodness of God, His nature as we spread the good news of His kingdom.
Jesus came to earth as man and He healed many people who were sick. In the gospel, He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in the city of Capernaum and toward the evening, the whole city came with their sick and demon-possessed for Jesus to heal and to deliver them. Many came, in fact, all came who were sick.
Many in the world suffer pain and sickness and even death. This sometimes makes me ask: why, in the first place, does God allow sickness, disease, pain, suffering and injustice? Jesus was here on earth for three years. He told the apostles that they need to go to the other villages because He needed to preach the gospel and heal the people as well. In three years, He did not cover the whole earth and He was not able to pray for all the people. Why is this?”
In theology, this is what they call the ‘problem of evil’ and ‘problem of pain.” God is All-powerful; All-knowing; All-good, yet why is there suffering? If God is All-powerful, He can do anything He wants. He can put a stop to COVID. If God is All-knowing, He knows what we are going through – pandemic and all our weaknesses, pain, and suffering. God is All-good all the time. Then, why do we still suffer?
On this premise, the atheists built a case against God. They say that either God doesn’t exist or He is not what He claims to be. This sometimes makes us doubt; but we are not called to doubt. They say that sickness and death is something we see and feel, but do we feel or see God? They say that evil, suffering, and injustice are more real and tangible than God’s presence. If we are not strong in our faith, we will be shaken and make us doubt.
We are not called to accuse God. We are not called to question Him. We are called to believe in Him. Some Christians, in their misunderstanding of who God is, are in denial. They say that it is not evil but all part of God’s plan. The death of a person is not from God. Death is God's enemy. Scriptures says that the final enemy to be conquered is death. The reason Jesus died on the cross is to conquer death. Death was not intended for us, but life is. This is the reason God breathed His breath in us so that He wants us to live. God doesn’t use death as part of His kingdom. He gives life; He does not kill. He does not destroy; He restores. Those that came to Jesus were healed, but we ask, “What about me?
In John 5, there was a pool in Bethesda and once a year, an angel comes down and stirs the water and all who are around the pool sit and wait for the angel to come. They scramble to get ahead of others because those that came first get to be healed. Jesus healed only one man in Bethesda. St. Paul wrote, “Trophimus, I left sick in Miletus.” St. Paul, who healed many, couldn’t even heal his friend.
It is easy to point a finger at God. God is good and sinless, and if there is a way to point fingers at God, how much easier is it to point fingers at each other, at sinful men. We are called to believe and have faith, not to accuse and to point fingers. Our minds may not understand everything, but our hearts can believe all things and can hope all things. We are given by God a heart of love. Understand that we are in an enemy-occupied territory. Martin Luther said, "And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us.” This is what the enemy wants to happen – to destroy us and to lose our faith in God.
A theological term called theodicy means the defense of God in the midst of suffering and injustice; and how is this done? Did God make evil spirits or bad people? No! What God did was to create angelic human beings with an ability to love. We can only have love if we have the initiative to do it. If we are forced to do it, it is not love. Love is something given with free will. If we have free will and we have the ability to love, we can also have the ability to choose the opposite of love. We can choose to hate or to do bad things.
This was the risk that God took when He created us. He created us in His image and He has given us love. His image is love and love is given by free will. If we have free will, we can do good and we can also do bad; but God did not intend us to do bad. We chose to! In short, evil is not the fault of God. It is the choice of angelic beings or human beings who were given free will. We cannot blame God for our misfortunes.
Who chose to sin? We did, not God. Sin entered the world through the temptation and death entered the world through sin. We were not created bad; we were created good, but with free will. If we can love, we can do evil. Evil things are not the acts of God. This ‘acts of God’ (calamity, earthquakes, flood, etc.) are often written in man’s insurances and these are not included in the coverage of insurance. Acts of God are the products of evil. What God does is the opposite – to cause all things to work together for our good.
Hebrews 1:3 says, "Through Jesus, God holds everything together,” because if God doesn’t, then, the world would have been destroyed long ago. We may not be able to understand everything, but we must see the big cosmic picture. Job was afflicted with many misfortunes in his life, and he asked God why He allowed things to happen to him. God did not answer his question, but instead asked him, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you when I spoke the planets into place? Where were you when I summoned the night and the day, when I separated the land and the sea, and I created all the trees and the mountains?”
In our lives, God doesn’t expect us to see everything. Our finite minds cannot fathom God’s infinite nature and goodness. He makes us understand as much as we can, but we must see the big cosmic picture.
Jesus healing whoever He could heal is a statement to us that the restoration of all things is underway. Jesus said, “I must go to the other villages and also proclaim the good news to them. There are sheep outside of My fold and I also need to include them into My fold.” In the meantime, knowing that we won’t fully understand everything and we might think that He doesn’t care for us and that He is unjust, and so that we would not be alone our suffering, God became like one of us. Jesus left the bliss of heaven to be like one of us, to experience our sufferings with us.
In our finite minds, we would think that God could just stop the situations that we are in like this pandemic, however, we don’t see the bigger picture that God has created. We are called to have faith in God’s goodness, omniscience, power and love. Although we don’t understand, God joins our sufferings and enters our realities. He suffers with us and tells us, “We will get to the other side. Until then, I will be with you at the end of this. I will be with you until I am done making all things new. I will be with you until I am done healing all of you! I will be with you until everyone will have eternal life – to everyone who would accept it.”
God doesn’t count men’s sins against them. Instead, He reconciles us to Himself. This is good news to us. We pray, “Help us in the midst of things that we can’t understand to trust in You.” Who can we run to but God! God, in solidarity and in sublime demonstration of love, joins us and promises, “We are in the same boat together!” Jesus could have stayed in heaven, but He loved us too much to leave us alone in our situations.
God loves us and He wants the whole world to be reconciled to Him. He doesn’t count our sins against us. He has forgiven us and He is not angry at us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. This is the gospel, this is the good news, and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.