Rain on the Unjust
I am writing this morning from Austin, where the drought-parched Texas countryside has been thoroughly drenched from a series of late-night thunderstorms. We do not normally welcome the rain. Dark cloud and storms are images of suffering or danger or worse. Behind every dark cloud lies a silver lining assumes the speaker does not seem to think much of dark clouds.
Jesus notes that our Father in heaven "sends the rain upon the just and the unjust."
The sense some people take from this thought is true. God's people, like all people, will undergo suffering. Storms come to everyone, now and then.
It is a challenge to learn the art of worship when you are in a time of suffering through no fault of your own. Here is one of the great chasms between Christianity and Buddhism. In Buddhism suffering, an illusion this physical world lays over our minds, is conquered by emptying the self of it completely. In this suffering shall cease. In Christianity, suffering is rooted in the reality of a fallen world and is to be embraced as the great tool through which holiness might be perfected. It is conquered by filling oneself with the suffering Christ. In this, at the end, suffering shall cease.
And so we gather in worship and sing, "Blessed be your name. On the road marked with suffering, Though there's pain in the offering: Blessed be your name"
But, as the context of Matthew 5 suggests, Jesus uses the image of rain to point out that God blesses those who do not deserve His blessing. As in Job 5:10, rain is a blessing, not a punishment, God freely sends upon those who do not deserve it.
How could God let this terrible thing happen to a good person? It is the classic question addressed in a primary form of apologetics: the theodicy. The defense of God. How could a just and good God let bad things happen to good people? We offer praise, though we cannot give a fully satisfying answer to that question. But what about the other reality?
How could God let this wonderful thing happen to a bad person? Although we ask it less often, it is just as unanswerable a question as the first. Both questions stand in bafflement of the conflict between reality and what we believe ought to have been the actions of a just God.
Tomorrow, Linda returns to the MD Anderson center in Houston to check for any return of the aggressive lymphoma was almost took her life back in 2010. If anything is found, I already know we will be upset and anxious. But, at least for us, the question how could God let this happen? is not in the mix. You see, with 250,000 patients a year, many of them young parents and children, it would have made more sense to have asked in October of 2010 when the tests came back cancer-free, how could God let this happen? How could Linda be cancer free? Many of the patients around us did not receive that good news.
We do not think it is because our desire for healing was greater. We dare not think it is because the depth of our faith and the quality of our prayers exceeded so many thousands of others who were suffering and praying. In the end, these blessings come without a note of explanation. In that sense, they are just like the coming of suffering.
Today, as the hillsides of Austin are green in the morning mist, I think rain on the just and unjust is about God blessing. He blesses those who do not deserve. Blessing the forgotten. The weak. The failed and the failing. All without explanation, as if He needed to give one or we could fathom it if He did.
So, Redman's words can be a little re-framed: When we have a day that is like the refreshing stream or one with the sun shining down on us, in spite of knowing we cannot explain such blessings within the justice of God, we nevertheless choose to say, "Blessed be the Lord."
Update: Linda's tests indicated she remains cancer-free. We return in December for another check-up. So, the sweet rain of blessings once again falls on the undeserving.