Sunday, September 18, 2016
Proper 20

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Amos 8:4-7
1 Tim. 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” Jer. 8:22

If God is loving, why do people suffer?

It is a difficult question, and perhaps even a good question. But it isn’t a new question. Even the prophet Jeremiah asked it, out of the depths of his own pain as he observed the suffering of the people he loved. Jeremiah believed in the Physician, believed in the Balm. But if the doctor is in, if the healing medicines are available, then we can surely expect treatment. We can surely expect caring hands and wise heads to provide what help they can.

This “Why?” is answerless. Still. Still, after all these centuries, when the hearts of prophets, preachers, and people are broken for the endless suffering of the world, there is no answer to the Why. Like Jeremiah, we cling to our belief in the Physician, and we cling to our belief in the Balm, but still we run dry of tears. We cannot weep enough for every shocking photograph, every intolerable video, every bloodied child, every ravaged land. We know there is a Healer; so why are the people still awaiting wholeness?

The life of faith is a life of irony. The prophet experienced it: the terrible irony of knowing there is a Healer who, inexplicably, allows pain to persist. There is a Salve that is going to waste, leaving the wounded weeping.

But there is also an irony that is expressed in our deepest creeds and our dearest hymns. It’s the irony of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), praising God for the not-yets; in present-tense language, Mary sings what will be when God’s kingdom uprights the world. The lowly are raised! The hungry are filled! The powerful are brought down! The irony of faith allows us to celebrate what is true in time’s fullness, if not in this moment.

Instead of surviving the silence after “Why,” instead of surrendering to the heartbreak of the question itself, we can muster all our faith-filled irony, and sing out the assertion:

“There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole!
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul!”

We can sing out our confession of the One who brings healing, in time’s fullness, if not in this moment. We can sing out our gratitude for the comfort of relief, in time’s fullness, if not in this moment. We can weep for this moment, and yearn for time’s fullness, and rejoice as if that time were now.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.