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Are you better than God?

How many of you know the 2003 movie called ‘Bruce Almighty’ starring Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston? In the film, Carrey’s character, Bruce Nolan is a TV reporter who eventually gets fired from his post. His luck continues plummet and he blames God for his misfortune. Then he receives a message to meet up with God played by Morgan Freeman dressed in a white suit. God agrees to give him his powers for a week and Bruce enjoys using them to walk on water, to stop a meteor crashing into a crowd and potty training his dog. It all begins to go wrong for Bruce when God reminds him that he has to answer prayers. He sets up a computer system for the purpose, but it is soon over loaded. Bruce can’t cope and decides that he will simply say yes to all the prayers which ends up plunging the whole city into chaos. There is of course plenty of love interest in the film which causes Bruce heart ache until he his taught to pray less selfishly. The film ends on a profound note as God is revealed as a homeless man.
Although the film was not made with the purpose of teaching about faith, it does make several quite profound points about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God. In bears some similarities with the book of Job from which our old testament reading today is taken. Job was a successful man who lost everything, his flocks and herds and his family. His friends, often known as his comforters, reason that Job must have done something very evil to suffer such consequences, but Job believes he is right and longs to put his case to God. (Job 13.3) In the end, God speaks, and it is the opening part of this speech that we have read today: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined it’s measurements – surely you know?’ (Job 38.4-5) Unlike the film, God does not let Job experiment with his powers, but like Bruce, Job begins to realise just what it means to be God. God takes him on a tour of the universe in his imagination pointing out all the things which Job could not possibly understand or do. The Lord concludes by saying to Job: ‘Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty?’ (Job 40.2)
This is the issue at the heart of our lessons for today. Can we contend, can we argue or criticise or presume upon God? When James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to Jesus to Jesus with a request, little do they realise that this is exactly what they are doing because they have yet to grasp the true nature of who Jesus really is. They ask if they can have seats on his right and on his left ‘in his glory’. (Mark 10.37) But they still thought of Jesus as a potential radical revolutionary who would rescue Israel from Roman rule and set up his own government. In making this request to Jesus, they were looking to steel a march on the other disciples bagging key places around the cabinet table. But Jesus responds: ‘You do not know what you are asking.’ (Mark 10.38) ‘…to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ (Mark 10.40) Jesus’ response makes clear that James and John were over reaching themselves. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. (John 18.36) The disciples were not asking for places on some post revolution counsel, but in the very courts of heaven. Just as God had said to Job: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’ (Job 38.2) so Jesus tells James and John: ‘You do not know what you are asking.’
Have you ever thought about putting God right on a thing or two? That maybe you could do a better job of things than he does; that if you had all the power at you figure tips that God has you could eliminate the world’s problems at a stroke. It can be tempting to think like that. When we listen to many of the powerful people in the world, they can sound like God Almighty himself. I won’t mention names, but business tycoons, politicians, scientists and even theologians and church leaders can all sound as though they understand the universe and know the answer to its problems. This is the sin of pride displayed in the ‘principalities and powers’ as Paul describes them in Ephesians.
But the God we worship, the one who reveals something of himself in the pages of the bible is not a God whom we can cut down to size and easily understand. We see his handiwork in the smallest of creatures, in the infinite variety of each transient snowflake as well as in the vastness of the night sky. We sense his grace in the warmth of human relationships in the provision of our needs and yet we wonder why he seemingly allows human suffering and injustices to go unchecked. Even Solomon, who had great wealth and political clout wrote of God: ‘Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you,’ (2 Chronicles 6.18) If we could begin to think of trying to be the God of the bible, our computers would go into overload like Bruce’s prayer computer in the film. As we contemplate in awesome wonder the full extent of God’s splendour, we are left with the words Job speaks: ‘See, I am of small account, what shall I answer you?’ (Job 40.4) If God were any less than this, if he were the product of our own imaginings and made total sense to us, then I would suggest he would not be much of God and each of us would have a different God anyway. This after all is what the bible calls idolatry.
What follows from all of this and Jesus’ conversation with his disciples is that the God we worship is hugely powerful and beyond our understanding. We can not presume to have a seat in his courts, but does that mean that he is beyond our reach? The answer to that one lies in the final part of the gospel reading today. Jesus tells his disciples and us that God’s way of things are the reverse of what we see around us; all the rich and powerful people jostling for attention. He says: ‘…whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10.44-45)
A person held in captivity or kept as a slave has no power. Only the ransom price can restore power to them. Jesus states that his mission is to give his life as the ransom price for us all who are held captive to sin. It is by this act of sacrifice; of divine grace that we can have a share in the God’s kingdom. As the hymn writer has it: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.’ (Augustus Montague Toplady 1740-1778)
We must realise that if we want to be part of God’s kingdom; to have a share in heaven, we need to think in a radically different way to that which comes naturally to us as human beings. Instead of thinking we know best, trying to control everything and seeking satisfaction in material things, we need to follow the example of Jesus, who prayed to his Father that his will be done. Like Jesus, we need to trust God, even when what is happening around us does not make sense believing that our hope is in him alone. Rather than seeking security in what we possess, we should find it in our relationship with Christ who has paid our ransom with his life.
In the film, TV reporter Bruce was given God’s power for a week. In real life, God’s own son had his power denied him for 3 days on the cross and in the grave. The first is the figment of human imagination. The second is God’s perfect will. Which will you choose?
Trinity 21 21.10.2018

Rev Jonathan Smith

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