7/9/06, Pentecost 5-B

I Do Not Know; God Knows
2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

n the midst of pouring out his soul to his Corinthian friends, we hear St. Paul sharing his secret of survival and source power. He had climbed many mountains and traversed many streams in order to establish churches in Asia and into Europe. He had learned to trust in God through difficulties.

Most of us do not practice what Paul was preaching. We do not trust God because we have not had to.

You may have heard the story about the novice mountain climber who had lost his grip on the climbing rope and was holding on to a thin safety rope. He looked down at the ground several hundred feet below and saw no one who could help him. So, he cried out toward the top, “Can anybody up there please help me?” After several cries he heard a voice respond, “What do you need, my son?” The young climber cried out, “Please, please pull me up, I am barely holding on!”  A deep voice responded again, “I am the Lord God, you can let go of your rope, and I will save you.” The desperate mountain climber yelled back, “Is there anybody else up there?”

We modern folks are novices when it comes to trusting God, and letting go of our weak safety lines.

C. S. Lewis says in one of his most popular books, The Problem of Pain, that the problem of pain is that God knows about it and still allows it to happen. Sorrow, sickness, disappointment, all hurt to the quick and sometimes it seems that God does nothing to help, and at times is telling us to let go of the thin threads that we have been desperately clinging. Lewis goes on to teach us that the reason that God allows his beloved children to suffer pain is that it is through our problems that we are formed into adult children who are capable of Christian maturity and strength of character.

However, it sounds like Paul had found his source of help through his many near-death escapes and sicknesses, imprisonments, shipwrecks and even a stoning by his enemies who left him for dead. Many scholars assume that this out of body experience of being caught up into Paradise was autobiographical as he had learned to lean on and trust in God through such experiences. He did not attempt a meaning of what God was doing through him, He just said, “I do not know; God knows.”

Paul had learned the lesson that it is through our weakness that we are made strong. It is in the trials and testing that we can be made useful for future battles. Yet, don’t we all feel like throwing in the towel when the fight is raging? Although pain is never a welcome guest; as coaches sometimes remind athletes in training, “There is no gain without the pain!” However when we intentionally inflect pain as a way of seeking God, we fail because Jesus has already paid the price for our salvation and all we have to do is to receive His sacrifice on our behalf. The pain we have in life is allowed because we grow by finding victory through difficulties.

Can we really expect to be turned into a mature believer without some painful experiences? A neighbor said to me once, “What does not kill me makes me stronger!”  We all could call the names of dear Christian friends who would come to our rescue if we got boxed into a dark corner? When they came to the hospital room to visit us and said, “I am praying for you.” You knew they would and that God was used to answering their prayers. There was none of this “Let go of the rope, silliness.” 

In the letters of St. Paul, the first real theologian of the Church, we hear him saying that that there are many times he can only answer, “I do not know; God knows.”  The old Christians used to call that, “Leaving it on the Altar.”

Although the exact words are not in the Bible, theologians use the “omni” words to describe God’s power and willingness to intervene in natural order. When Tom Cousins named Atlanta’s first large professional basketball and hockey arena he wanted to portray the multi-purpose nature of the giant facility: he named it the OMNI. As a believer he had learned, as have we, that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent. The Omni was torn down and replaced some ten years ago. The building did not measure up to the divine name it was given. However our God is Omnipotent/All-Powerful. He is Omniscient, or “All-Knowing” and God is Omnipresent, or present everywhere at the same time. This means that He is attending all Christian Churches at worship and offering himself to all human hearts at the same time.

 We believe that God can step in and change things as we pray.

As a child I was taught to preface all prayers with the fore-note, “Father, if it be thy perfect will, please intervene in my friend John’s sickness and heal him.” Most of us believe that our all-powerful Heavenly Father, who stepped out on nothing and created the universe, can transcend His own laws of physics, probability and logical truth. Many secularists will pray for divine intervention when it is themselves or their grandchild when facing major surgery. Scientists will tell you that things happen that defy any human explanation. Medical doctors and nurses share stories of incurable diseases being cured by Divine power. Often we humans “Do Not Know; but God Knows, and we know it’s Him, the Loving Father and charitable God.

I grew up hearing the story of how my Dad had been healed of Rheumatic Fever when I was an infant. He called for the “Elders of the Conference” to anoint him with oil and pray the prayer of healing and God extended his life for forty-four years. Dad also gave credit to medical science because doctors had just begun the practice of injecting massive doses of penicillin as a cure for the once dreaded rheumatic fever. Dad and Mother would always award dual credit to God and Doctors. Whether it was prayers or penicillin, Dad survived.

Most of us pray about everything. I prayed that the rain would end at the Braves- St. Louis game on the 4th of July so our family could see the fireworks, but by the time the game had re-started it was too late for fireworks and we were tucked in our beds at home.

God is able to do anything that is in accord with His plan. He is able to predict the long chain of effects on subsequent changes caused by His granting of a miracle. Computers have helped us to understand that in the fast electronic calculations we can grasp how God could predict the ripple effects of changing just one thing that will affect subsequent events. Today, Technical Universities offer majors in computer probabilities; or, how one change affects many later events. Business has incorporated this area as a tool for predicting future events. However, God has more experience. Paul learned, as a highly educated professor of the law and religion, “I don’t know; only God knows.”  (text, NLT) 

When we learn to lean on Him we do not have to know all the answers. Research scientists often make thousands of wrong choices as they try to discover just the right formula.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
7/9/06, Pentecost 5-B