On Mitigation the Suffering of God

On Mitigation the Suffering of God

On Mitigating the Suffering of God

November 26, 2023
Traceymay Kalvaitis
Matthew 25: 31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Today’s sermon is titled On Mitigating the Suffering of God . If you are reading or listening to this sermon, you have already passed through the time in your life when you likely asked the most questions. Warren Berger is the author of the book A More Beautiful Question. He refers to studies showing that between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age, children ask an average of 40,000 questions over that three year period. “Some studies show 4-year olds ask as many as 200-300 questions a day.” We all learned, at some point in our lives, that asking a question is an excellent and efficient way of gaining someone’s attention. Do you agree?

Four-year-olds may ask how babies are made, but they are too young to ponder the deeper existential questions, such as, Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? And if so, what is God? Our scripture reading today offers us some answers to some of these existential questions and sheds some long-awaited light on more complicated questions, such as, if God exists and if God is a force of goodness, then why do so many bad things happen in the world? There is a branch of philosophy that has arisen from our age-old attempts to answer this question; it is known as Theodicy. A beautiful word, Theodicy…the combination of the root words for God and justice.

It seems to me that we can not proceed without at least attempting to address these existential questions. This was not my plan for the sermon, but here we are. The questions are as follows: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? If so, what is God? And finally, “If God is good, then why do bad things happen?”

1) Why are we here? On a bad day we might answer, “to suffer.” On a good day we might answer, “to learn about suffering or to learn about love.” On a really good day, we may see clearly enough to be able to say, “We are here to learn how love can guide us through all suffering.”

2) What is the meaning of life? On a bad day we might answer, “life has no meaning.” On a good day we might come as far as to say, “the meaning of life is defined by our relationships with one another.” And on a really good day, the clouds may part long enough for us to realize that the meaning of our lives are inseparable from the relationships with others that have shaped us the most, for better or for worse.”

3) Does God exist? In my experience, a resounding YES! God is the only name I have for the presence of the most powerful emotions that move me…Love beyond love, pain in witnessing another’s pain, and beauty of the natural world that overwhelms the senses. God’s existence is proven, to me, through devotion… this inward turning towards something so true and so pure that, again, the only name I have for it is “God.”

4) What is God? In my experience, God is the overflowing of goodness that most often translates into a desire to help others. God is the time spent listening. God is the time spent encouraging. God is the time spent building up relationships. God is the time spent filling the needs of others. God is the time spent seeking justice for all so that we may, one day, know peace.

5) And now, the most complicated question of all: If God is good then why do bad things happen? This is the question that I am obliged to consider most often because whoever and whatever and however I perceive God to be must hold true for every circumstance of our lives, from the best of times to the worst of times. My current working theory is based on two things: 1) “Bad” things happen as a result that can be traced, somewhere down the line, to erroneous choices made by a person, a group of people, or an institution. 2) This may sound blasphemous to some: God is not (contrary to what we may have learned in Sunday School) directing our every move and altering outcomes. Like one of my favorite quotes by an unknown author, “God does not protect us from adversity; God protects us in adversity. Bad things happen because life is dangerous and we have made it more that way. We drive hunks of metal around at 50 mph, we fly giant hunks of metal tens of thousands of feet above the earth, we poison our soil and groundwater with chemical fertilizers and pesticides and wonder why there is so much cancer and illness in the world. What do we expect?

And now, after that unplanned diversion, I want to return to our scriptures for today from the Gospel of Matthew. This is the final teaching of Jesus’s ministry, and it is the final message of our church calendar before Advent begins next week. One would expect this message to be cumulative and reflective of the essence of Jesus’s ministry, complete with all we need to know. The message does not disappoint. It is a message that can be received and then expressed by every single person, at least, in some small way.

Our scripture for today ushers us directly in to the place where God is synonymous with the mitigation of suffering. The use of the word “mitigation” here is intentional. Mitigation is defined as “the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.” This is not only the work we are called to do as Christians; this is the place where we encounter the essence of our relationship with God. This is where the greatest potential exists for God to work in us and through us to accomplish things that are otherwise beyond our abilities.

This interplay between human and divine can be found in the most significant events of our lives. If you have ever sat vigil at the bedside of the sick and the dying you have experienced a source of strength and perseverance to attend, to keep watch, and to meet needs as they arise. This very minute there are doctors and nurses and aides in hospitals who are coping with staff shortages, and shortages of medicines. There is some coping without electricity, water and basic supplies. How do they manage? How do they keep going? I explain it this way: they are not alone.

The power of goodness, the power of God-ness, is not limited to one religion or to individuals that call it forth in some specific way. God IS. GOD IS. It sounds too simple and yet too profound to be true (which is perhaps the best endorsement that it is true.) What would our world look like were it to reflect the truth that God is present, and God is active in and through us? It looks like a world where honest labor is paid with a living wage. It looks like a world where there is liberty and justice for all, equally, under the law. It looks like a world where use of natural resources weighs the needs of future generations over short-term exploitation for profit. It looks like a world where all people have access to physical and mental health care and where those in rehabilitation and treatment far outnumber those in prison.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, a culture where the basic needs of all people are met; now imagine the subsequent overflowing of giving back, of caring for one another, that is unleashed when the basic needs of all people are addressed. This is not out of reach, Friends; this could be realized by younger generations that are already among us today. We have the resources; what we need is a shift in paradigm that recognizes the inherent worth of all people. We as Christians have the teachings, the tradition, and the example, through Christ, in how to lead the way.

In closing, it is my deepest prayer that all of the suffering in the world at this present time will lead to the most significant shifts in humanity moving forward. It is in the restructuring of individual lives that cultural shifts are accomplished. We, as Christians, have a sacred responsibility in bringing about this cultural shift. It begins with our sacred duty to care for what Jesus calls “the least of these.” In so doing, we become the mitigators of suffering. In so doing, we become more a part of God and God becomes more a part of us. What could be better than that? Amen.


Pastoral Prayer
God of my heart, I pray for our country. I pray that hearts and minds will turn to considering what is best for the many instead of what is best for the few. For all those who are grieving, I pray for solace and assurance and peace. In our words and in our actions, beloved God, I pray that we will be conduits of your love and your holy light. Keep our minds and hearts trained on what is most precious to us and help us to center our lives accordingly. Remind us to be grateful for the basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing and clean water. And when we feel discouraged, turn our eyes to the natural world outside our windows where the miracle of life is unfolding every instant. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray by saying Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.

From the book of Jude:
“As for you, Beloved, build up yourselves upon your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God…unto life everlasting.”