"Is evil a recompense for good?" - Jeremiah 18: 20
Out of prophet Jeremiah's tough life came tough questions. Like this one, "Is evil a recompense for good?" Or to be a little more colloquial, "Is this what I get for doing the right thing?"
Elsewhere, Jeremiah flips to the other side of the coin to ask God, "Why do the evil prosper?"
Questions like these are not low-key inquiries. They are not asked in a neutral tone, as if saying, "How was the movie?" or "Which way is the grocery store?" They are charged. They carry a full freight of feeling: anger, hurt, sadness, confusion, despair, rejection, more anger. Did I mention anger? To do the right thing and be rejected — and not just rejected but even attacked — is one of the most dis-orienting experiences a human being can have. It's not supposed to be this way!
And yet, it is. It is this way. The lives of the prophets, the story of Jesus, the lives of countless advocates of justice and righteousness throughout history confirm it.
If we don't have easy or straightforward answers to Jeremiah's tough questions, we can at least be grateful that we find them in the sacred Scriptures of our faith. In the Bible we hear people telling it like it is. Thank God. This means that when we are in the midst of such an experience, we are a little less alone. It means we worship a God who can handle the questions born of hurt, anger and rejection.
Such anguished questions also tell us that in the short-term and in the heat of the present moment there are no easy or obvious correlations between righteousness and reward, between evil and punishment. We live, as an old friend liked to say, "This side of the Promised Land," by which she meant — here and now, things aren't always clear and don't always make sense.
But faith means believing that ultimately there is moral meaning in the universe. This is at least part of the significance of the resurrection. To believe and live with the confidence that there is moral meaning in a world that daily challenges such trust — that is faith and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
When stung by rejection or attack, grant us the company of the faithful who have likewise suffered and the healing power of your love. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.