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By Rev. Dr. Fritz RitschMarch 7, 2021, Exodus 17: 1-7, Matthew 4: 1-11
On election day St. Stephen always serves as

Incomparable Sorrow

“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”
Rev. Dr. Warner Bailey
Isaiah 52:13-53:13, Lamentations 1:12; 2:13, Matthew 8:14-17, Hebrews 5:7-10
The Black Church has

Led Into Testing

Led Into Testing
Rev. Dr. Fritz RitschFeb 21, 2021, Mark 1: 9-16
Last week we talked about the fact that for nearly

Freedom to Love

Freedom to Love

Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch
Jan 31, 2021, 4th Sunday after Epiphany

The Man with an Unclean Spirit

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

When I was in junior high school I was in a patriotic musical. It was fun and, in many ways, had a big impact on me. The musical finale was a song that went:

Freedom isn’t free!
You’ve got to pay the price
You’ve got to sacrifice
For your liberty!

Those words return to me a lot as an adult. They’re a reminder of what it has cost us, and continues to cost us, to have a nation that is, as we say, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.” Americans have taken risks and died for our liberty and for the liberty of others. The song always reminds me that the concept of liberty is not built around the idea of the right to “do your own thing.” My liberty and your liberty are intertwined. For my liberty to mean anything, you have to be fully free as well. Sometimes I have to make sacrifices in order to ensure that you are free. Freedom isn’t free.

Freedom was largely at the core of the Gospel message that the Apostle Paul brought to the mostly Gentile congregation in the city of Corinth on the island of Achaia in modern day Greece. This is a congregation that Paul himself first established, spending 18 months there preaching and teaching. Paul taught them that Christ had set them free—free from sin, free from human rules, free to live a life in harmony with God through Jesus Christ, and free from God’s judgment after death. In many ways the core of Paul’s Gospel preaching was freedom. He taught that Gentiles who became Christian didn’t need to become Jews first. They were free from circumcision and from the restrictions of Jewish law.

They were free, for instance, to eat food offered to idols if they wanted. That sort of thing would have been considered idolatry to most Jews, but Paul taught that since God wasn’t threatened by other gods, it didn’t matter whether we ate food offered to idols or not. As he puts it right here in this letter, “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” In other words, eating sacrificial food in God’s eyes has no meaning whatsoever. In fact, 1500 years later, Martin Luther would build on this to say that in some cases to do things like eat food offered to idols was an act of faithfulness to God, to prove you were free of human expectations and belief in the power of false gods.

I remember the time that teaching really hit me forcefully. It was in college. I was a leader in a college fellowship group that had ironclad expectations about how Christians were to behave. But I had other Christian friends, Kim and Kestina, who were my escape valve from all this smug rule making. They loved to dance and drink beer and have a good time.

One night we were at the local pizza place, Perini’s, when the tight-laced president of the Christian fellowship group, Dave, came in with a couple of other folks. He primly said hello to us—looking archly over his wire-rimmed glasses at me because he didn’t think Kim and Kestina were appropriate company—and ordered his pizza. Kestina looked at me. “Order a pitcher of beer!” she said.

“Yes! Do it!” Kim said.

The two of them could barely contain their glee.

“But—but—” said I. I had never had a drink in front of these sort of super-Christians before. Certainly not in front of Dave, who seemed to disapprove of anything fun. But Kestina and Kim could not be swayed. “Do it!”

So—I did. I was kind of quiet –“We’d like a pitcher of beer”–so Kestina repeated it much louder. “WE’D LIKE A PITCHER OF BEER.” (It’s important to note here that Kestina was a Lutheran.)

The looks that came at us from Dave’s table! And then the beer came, and we drank it and I relaxed. I admit, it was one more nail in the coffin of my relationship with Dave and that fellowship group. But it was also an important lesson in being myself. In many ways, one of the key points that Paul wanted us to understand when he taught Christian freedom is that in Christ, we are free to be who we truly are and who we are truly meant to be. There are a million caveats to that—I’ll talk about a few in a minute—but the point is that Christ frees us from the restraints and expectations that shackle us so that we can be both who we are, and who we’re meant to be in God’s eyes.

After that experience, one of the folks who’d been at the table with Dave that night came over to me and said, “You remember that night at Perini’s when you ordered beer? That was pretty cool.”

And this goes to one of Paul’s other points about Christian freedom. Paul firmly believed that the perception that God makes rules to restrain us and control us and limit our pleasure in life is an obstacle to the Gospel of Grace—God’s unconditional love for us. How can grace be free and unconditional if it comes with rules and regulations? My friend who liked that we were drinking that night liked the idea that one could be Christian and not have to be tied down by rules. I think this made a big, positive impact on his life over the next couple of years.

This Gospel of freedom and liberty that Paul preached had been a big selling point to the Corinthians when they first became Christians.

But then, it became a problem. And Paul had to address it.

There were a lot of problems in the Corinthian church after Paul had left it, too many to really review right now. Suffice it to say that because prestige mattered in pagan Roman Corinth, it started to matter in Christian Roman Corinth, too. Wealth, education, and success were the most important thing to most Corinthian citizens, and the worth of individuals was judged by their wealth, education and success or the lack thereof. And the same thing was happening in the church.

What really got to Paul was that it was happening at the Fellowship table where communion was served. It appears that in those days it was common for the church to have a Love Feast—that is, a full meal like we’d have at a church fellowship night, with the elements of the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine, as the centerpiece. The Corinthians had turned this into more of a bacchanal in which the wealthy got the best food and the poor got the dregs. One of the things that the more prestigious Corinthian Christians were doing was bringing meat offered to idols and eating it right there in front of everybody, right there at fellowship and in front, it must be noted, of “weaker Christians”—that is to say, new Christians who had just been weaned off the worship of idols, for whom anything that looked like idolatry was a temptation to return to false gods, who would be deeply offended or hurt in their faith to see food offered to idols being eaten.

This was the equivalent of our youth fellowship leaders inviting the middle school youth group to a gigantic keg party. The justification for all of this was that, “Hey, Paul said we are no worse off if we eat, and no better off if we do! We’re free to do what we want!”

But Paul says no. You are not free to do that. Why? Because these new Christians are “weak,” as he puts it. Their faith isn’t strong enough to understand the difference between eating meat offered to idols and idolatry. Paul is furious with the Corinthian Christians who think they are so wise and so smart and like to prove their superiority at the expense of the faith of younger, newer Christians. Freedom is not a license to do as you please, he warns them. “Knowledge puffs up,” he fumes, “but love builds up.” These smug, superior Corinthian Christians have flaunted their freedom at the expense of love.

And love, Paul tells them, is everything to God. Everything. He will in this very letter write a whole chapter on love, I Corinthians 13. “There abide faith, hope and love, these three,” he says, “but the greatest of these is love.” Love is the purpose of Christian freedom. It is the whole reason Christians are free. In Christ, we are free, at last to love. We are free so that we can grow into who God intends us to be—people who love without restraint, the same way God loves without restraint.

And what the Corinthians were doing was not love. Far from it. Theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that

“Freedom is not a quality of a person, nor is it an ability, a capacity, a kind of being that somehow flares up in one. Anyone investigating humanity to discover freedom finds nothing of it. Why? because freedom is not a quality which can be revealed–it is not a possession, a presence, an object, nor is it a form of existence–but a relationship and nothing else. In truth, freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means “being free for the other,” because the other has bound me to them. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”

This is exactly Paul’s point. Freedom is not a quality inherent in an individual. It is gift from God—but it is a gift worthless unless it happens in relationship. And so freedom must be practiced always and only in the service of love. We are free to be “free for the other.” Only in relationship to the other am I free.

For Paul, to be free means that you are more concerned for the other than you are about yourself. He saw God’s grace as freedom from piety and guilt and self-awareness. To him, this was the problem with religion in general: it makes us way too self-aware. We’re constantly worried about, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I sinning? Is God angry with me? Is God blessing me?” Me, me, me. Paul hated that and he thought God hated that too. We become so concerned with how I am doing that we don’t really think about our neighbor and what she needs—unless it’s in the context of me, me, me like “I must be good to this poor person so I can win brownie points with God.”

To Paul, God frees us from this constant self-centered soul searching so that we can stop worrying about me and start genuinely and selflessly caring about our neighbor.

Obviously, some of the Corinthians failed at this. For them, to be Christian was just one more pathway to self-awareness and self-prestige. They’d mistaken their freedom as a license to do what they want instead of a calling to love others freely.

Freedom continues to be a misunderstood quality today. Often talk of freedom today is around “My personal freedom”—I have a right to this, and I have a right to that. This is as if our freedoms are personal, they are individual, they are innate, they are endowed. That is the way we talk about rights as Americans.

But it is not how the bible understands freedom. Our freedom is not for ourselves. It is not an excuse for selfishness or to pursue our gain at the expense of another’s loss. As Bonhoeffer says, “Being free means being free for the other, because only in relationship to the other am I truly free.” Freedom is the pathway to selflessness, to service to others, to freely giving ourselves to others. Unfortunately, the way we often look at it is from the perspective of selfishness.

Freedom has always been important to both Christians and Americans, but freedom in both Christianity and the US Constitution has always been understood as a social contract. The Constitution understands that my rights are not guaranteed if your rights are not guaranteed. The Constitution is a social contract that says Americans have rights by mutual consent. You consent that I have rights and I consent that you have rights. The point here is that whether we understand our freedom to be Constitutional or Biblical, it remains true that freedom only exists in the context of the other.

But Christianity takes it further. Our freedom exists for the sake of the other, and it includes the freedom not to do something you have the quote right to do unquote if it means you might harm another person physically, spiritually, or mentally. This is Paul’s point. He tells the Corinthians that he has the freedom to eat meat offered to idols if he wants, but he has freely chosen to only eat vegetables so that he doesn’t “cause another to stumble.” He has freely put his self-interest to the side for the sake of others. It’d be nice to see a lot more of that in our common discourse—people less focused on their right to do something and more sensitive to others’ needs and concerns.

Thank heaven there is the church. Every day and in myriad ways we see folks here at St. Stephen freely do things for the sake of others at the expense of their freedom and “right” to do something else. Despite the pandemic and its limitations on all of our freedoms, we have church people who are nervous going out to the supermarket and confined to home still finding ways to make sandwiches for the homeless, thousands and thousands of them. People express their freedom to love by giving generously of long, impersonal Zoom meetings. Sure business people do this too. But church folks are not paid to do this. They are volunteers. They give of themselves freely out of love.

Communion was a big problem in the Corinthian church because of people misusing their freedom. But St. Stephen has gone a different direction, in fact a lot of churches have. All of our denominations have rules about how we serve communion, who is welcome at the table, and so forth. But here at St. Stephen, and in many other churches, we’ve come up with a way to have online communion that really stretches those rules and, in the process, welcomes more people to the table, rather than fewer. The PCUSA recently determined that they will do communion the way we have done it for years—it is open to any who seek to know God through Christ. We hope that many online visitors are feeling free to have the Lord’s supper with us because of the way we’ve loosened the rules.

That’s how we are called to use our freedom. Not to exclude but to include, to welcome and embrace, and support others. That is the true meaning of Christian freedom.

The God of Ungodly

The God of Ungodly

Rev. Dr. Warner Bailey
Jan. 17, 2020

Numbers 12:1-15
Romans 5:1-11
Luke 10:25-37

Looking at the assault on the Capitol on January 6, I was struck by just how colorful were the scenes. Lots of red hats. Flags, too. American flags. Texas flags. The battle flag of the Confederacy. Yellow flags and white flags bearing slogans of the Revolution. “Don’t tread on me.” “Live free or die.” There were also flags and banners which had names emblazoned on them. Flags with the name Trump. Banners with the name Jesus 2020. Signs proclaiming Jesus Saves. Those were the only names I saw flying in the wind. It made me remember that phrase in “Onward Christian Soldiers.” “Forward into battle, See his banners go.”

I don’t know about you, but I take it that these were the names in whose honor what was going on was done. These were the names the invaders invoked to encourage, to bless and guide something which had only been done once before in the War of 1812 by the British. For me, it brought on sadness and anger at how people who claim Jesus as savior would involve him in such horrifying acts.

If politics is only about power, then the Bible can serve up a certain kind of religion for power-hungry politicians. Literalistic, authoritarian, male dominated, white racist, homophobic, truth denying religion is just perfect for the power hungry. If that’s what you are looking for, it can be found in the Bible. No clearer instance do we have of this fact than President Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church which stands in front of the White House. You remember, it happened on June 1 during a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the White House over the murder by a white policeman of a black man George Floyd. Protestors were forcibly pushed back so that the President and members of his staff, including his top general and Defense Secretary, could walk to the church. Standing in front of the church with the power of the state behind him, Mr. Trump held out a Bible in his right hand to hammer home his rule of law and order.

I don’t know about you, but all this has really made my job hard as a Christian. Last year I published a book entitled Aliens in Your Native Land. That’s about how I feel as a mainline Christian. White insurrectionists bearing the name Jesus get a free pass to storm the Capitol, trash it up, and threaten lawmakers in order to stop the heartbeat of American democracy. Black Lives Matter protestors get tear gassed and pushed back so the President can walk across the street with his top general and without asking for permission hold up a Bible in front of an historic church to hammer home his rule of law and order. And my non-Christian friends, the so-called “nones”, and the cynics say, “And that’s what your faith is all about?” “Is this how you use the Bible?” And our wonderful teenagers who are leading this worship service today say: “Is this what I signed up for when my parents had me baptized?” “And you think that this is what I need?” “Is this what ‘Jesus Saves’ is all about?”

Of course we do not think so. What happened on January 6 has thoroughly discredited the President and his followers. But just as tellingly, the religion of the banner wavers is shown up as trashing the name of the Jesus by making him the emblem of white supremacy, populism run amuck, rank individualism, male domination, and conspiracy ideology. We will have none of it!
If you open the Bible you will see that racism lives within its pages. In our Old Testament lesson, Aaron, one of Moses’ brothers, together with his sister, Miriam, tried to wrest the power of leadership from Moses. They said, “He has married a Cushite.” When you hear Cushite, think Ethiopian. In the legend of Noah and the ark, one of Noah’s sons, Ham, is the founder of the land of Cush which is in Africa. Noah curses Ham and his progeny to live in servitude. “She is a Cushite.” Slaves would come from Africa.
Miriam and Aaron played the race card in their bid to unseat Moses. Their power-play began by smearing him as having married a black woman, someone who is an “other”, someone who is outside the clan, someone whose race carries the taint of being of the servant-class.

Our story says that Moses was the most humble man on earth, but use your imaginations to conjure up the blow Moses suffered when his own flesh and blood, his own most trusted colleagues, dissed him, shamed him, slandered him through his wife’s race in a bid to unseat him as the leader of Israel.

The stakes in this struggle were so great that God had to intervene, and in a stunning act of judgment God cursed Miriam’s skin by making it turn snow white. She had used blackness to bring down her brother. God used whiteness to make her into an object of horror and repulsion. It was only after repeated pleadings from Aaron and Moses that God lifted the curse of the snow-white skin. But God’s curse was not lifted before God made Miriam an “outsider” just like she had made the Cushite wife. Miriam had to serve a seven-day sentence of solitary confinement outside the camp before she was able to rejoin the community. She had to get over being white. While Miriam may have been healed of her physical disfigurement, she will always carry the scar of the judgment and grace of God toward how she had used race to get control. Now hold this story in your mind.

Another story to think about. We all love the story of the Good Samaritan. I want to shift the focus of the story away from the invidious contrast between the proper Jewish clergy and the Samaritan. I want you to imagine that you are the half-dead Jew by the roadside, lying in the hot sun unconscious, in shock, your life-blood oozing out of your deep cuts. Suddenly, the sting of the alcohol in the wine being poured on your wounds shocks you back into consciousness, and it gradually comes upon you that you are being helped by a Samaritan!

Samaritans, you have been carefully taught, are ungodly, and if they touch you, you become ungodly. The thing you have been taught to do is to get away from this guy, but you are helpless to do so. More to the point, the very one you have been taught to hate, to dominate, to despise is the one who holds your life in his hands, the one who will determine whether you will ever see your wife and kids again. Jesus asked, “Who was the neighbor”? The answer is obvious. But the other unspoken question is: What was the Jew thinking about as he recovered in a bed paid for by the Samaritan?

So now I have you thinking about two stories that leave people scarred for life, Miriam and the half-dead Jew. They have been wounded in that part of their soul that harbors attitudes of being superior to someone outside their tribe. Scarred for life by grace. What shall we do with these stories today?

The title of my sermon today is “The God of the Ungodly.” It is taken from our epistle lesson, Romans 5:6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” I have you thinking about two stories where God stood up for someone whom the dominant culture said was ungodly, beneath human dignity, the “other”, the sinister, the deadly. God stood up for Moses’ black wife when her race was used to try to bring him down, and Jesus made a hero out of the hated Samaritan. God is the God of those whom racism says are ungodly. Christ died for those people on the outside. God is their champion against Jesus 2020.

But we also saw in those stories a different kind of ungodliness. This is the ungodliness of sin. The smear tactics of Miriam and Aaron and their racist attitudes. That’s ungodly. The callous disregard of the priest and Levite. That’s ungodly, too. The inbred racism in which the Jewish victim of roadside robbery was trapped. That’s ungodly. There is an ugliness to ungodliness. Christ died for the people who held the Jesus 2020 banner.

Miriam was put in isolation for seven days to get over being white. What did she think about during that time? A Jew stayed in a hospital at the Samaritan’s expense to get over being anti-Semitic. What did he think about as he was recovering? The spirit of America is in intensive care. We are in the ICU because of the ungodly, ugly things we do motivated by our fear of losing our dwindling dominance and privilege juiced up by a religion of self-pity. In these days before the inauguration, what should we be thinking about?

Think about this. The one thing you and I and everybody else walked away with on January 6 was having suffered. If we are to start again, we have to begin in something we hold in common—in suffering. Think about this: Jesus was made to suffer and die like you would punish a slave. He suffered as one of the despised. Look at Jesus on the Cross! Look at the suffering human sin causes!

I’m going to tell you something that only Christianity will tell you about suffering: God raised the suffering Jesus from the dead, and he bears in his resurrected body the marks of his wounds. Your suffering sticks to the wounds of the resurrected-crucified Jesus. And his resurrection makes something wonderful happen. God pours into our wounds the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. That love will keep us afloat as together we walk the healing path from suffering to endurance to character to hope.

God holds the hope for the suffering. God holds the hope for America to be “out of many, one nation.” God’s love makes this hope a sure foundation on which to build back better again. No one can come and take that hope from us. Notice that the chain of healing goes from suffering to hope, not from suffering to cure. That’s important. Because hope stands at the end of the chain of healing that means that all along the way “better is better.”

Let us strive for and celebrate the “better” until that day when our striving shall cease, and God will bring in a “more perfect union.”

Close to the Father’s Heart

Close to a Father’s Heart

Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch
Jan 10, 2021

Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
John 1: 10-18

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1900-1944, French Author, Pilot; from The Little Prince

I knew a man that people said did not really have a heart. That’s not how they put it, but that’s what they meant. He’d been a member of the church I’d served for decades and had been an elder. He’d raised his children at the church. But no one really liked him. They said he was crotchety and cantankerous even as a young man. He was argumentative, condescending and resistant to change. When he was an elder, he seemed to get into conflicts with everyone. Then when his kids grew up, he dropped out of church altogether. His wife kept coming to church and she was much loved and respected. But most people felt sorry for her, because she was married to him.

By the time I was pastor there, his wife was in declining health. She had been sequestered at home and he was her only caregiver. Neither had been at church for several years. I resolved to visit them, but people warned me not to expect much. He’ll probably tell you to leave, they warned me. He won’t even let you in the door. Now by this point I was no amateur at ministry and had had the door slammed in my face more than once. I figured I ought to at least give it a try.

When I visited their home, he received me graciously. He spoke kindly and asked me about myself and how things were going at the church. He asked about particular people. He read the newsletter and kept up with news. He told me how his wife was doing, and we went into her room with her. She was deep into dementia. We had a prayer.

Afterwards he told me that it was his wife who believed in prayer, not he. He told me honestly that even with all his years in church, even as an elder, he had never really been a believer. He attended church because his wife wanted to attend church. All this was said in a frank but kind way. He was simply being honest. He was glad I’d prayed with his wife, because she believed and I believe. I appreciated his respectful attitude toward our faith.

When next I visited him, it was soon after his wife had died. He was tending his backyard and greeted me with a sad smile. The service had already happened; it had been a small service attended only by family and a handful of long-time friends. We talked in the garden. He told me how much he had loved her and how he missed her. We talked about books; he was a voracious reader. He’d been particularly interested recently in books about the black experience in America and loaned me a couple that have had a great influence on me. I still have them.

He told me that now that his wife was dead, his will to live had left him. We talked about death but he said he didn’t believe in life after death. He just wanted the pain of this life to end. We parted amiably. I was sad but had enjoyed our visit.

He died just a few weeks later.

People had told me he didn’t have a heart. But he had a great heart.

Another person’s heart is hard for any of us to see. Most people who knew this man, at least in that church, did not really credit this man with a heart. But his heart was his wife. She was his world. Her suffering brought out his heart in a deep and profound way. That is because the problem with having a heart is that hearts suffer. To have a heart means to have a fragility that most of us fear.

But not to have a heart is far worse.

In our Gospel lesson today, John tells us that “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[c] who is close to the Father’s heart,[d] who has made him known.” If we were to judge God by what we see in the world, it would not be unreasonable to assume that if there is a God, God has no heart. There is so much suffering, meanness, sadness and misery. That was my friend the so-called heartless man’s argument against God. How could God allow his wife, who was a woman of great faith, to suffer so? It’s a good question. I didn’t try to answer it for him, and I won’t try to answer it now, because any answer is facile and inadequate. I do not really know God, at least not that way. Only Jesus knows God’s heart.

And that is how we know that God has a heart.

A heart is revealed in all its broken glory through suffering. And Jesus, who was God walking among us, suffered. Jesus, who was at once mysteriously God, and God’s Son, suffered among us as one of us, alleviated the suffering of others, called out those who cause suffering, and died at the hands of those who perceived his great heart as a threat. He suffered shame, ignominy, humiliation, horrible physical pain and death. God’s heart was broken that day.

But this suffering happened because God was more concerned about your and my suffering, about human suffering and pain, and cared so much about it that God chose to go to the extreme of becoming human and suffering in person in order to do something about it.

It is an odd thing to proclaim someone a hero because they have suffered. We think of heroes as people who take action. But the truth is we’ve always known that true heroes bear suffering so that others won’t have to. We celebrate them on occasions like Memorial Day. On those days we don’t remember the living heroes who still get to wear their medals. We do honor them, but that’s not what a day like Memorial Day is for. On those days we remember the private who was gunned down by a German machine gun as soon as the gate on his landing craft opened. He never even got to fire a shot. He suffered, and his family suffered, and his friends suffered. But you and I are here because of him and hundreds of thousands of others who didn’t win medals but have suffered on our behalf.

Suffering is heroism because it reveals the heart. Certainly all of us suffer in some way, and not all of us are heroic about it. And I don’t mean to make some kind of blanket statement that you find out who a person truly is when they suffer, because I don’t think that’s fair. Some people suffer well and that doesn’t make them good people, and some people suffer poorly and that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. But what I mean is that those who suffer willingly show you who they really are—they show you their heart.

My friend who spent nearly a decade quietly tending his declining wife showed his heart deeply. I suspect as much as anything the reason he and I had such pleasant visits and developed a rapport was because his willingness to sacrifice so much for her sake had changed him in a profound way. For whatever reason, he had hidden his true self for years behind a façade of hard-edged cynicism. But tending his wife had revealed his true heart.

We don’t have easy answers to the problem of suffering and evil in the world. I doubt that easy answers would be satisfying, anyway. But we do know that in Christ, God suffered. God suffered for our sakes.

So we know that God has a heart.