We human beings are cause and effect thinkers. For every cause, we think, there must be an effect. For every effect, if we look backward, we can find a cause. If we do “A” then “B” will happen. We seem to be wired to need to know “why.” This way of thinking has been mostly beneficial for human beings. It is why we understand as much about the world as we do. Without the ability to understand cause and effect, that first caveman that dropped a piece of meat into a fire would never have figured out that the meat tastes better, is safer to eat and is easier to digest when it is cooked. Without cause and effect thinking I wouldn’t be writing this sermon on a computer sitting in a heated office, while sitting in a chair with the lights on. We would not be who we are without cause and effect thinking.
Unfortunately though, we often apply cause and effect thinking to parts of our lives when it does not serve us so well. Any of you have children know the truth of this all too well. You probably can’t even remember how many times you have heard your children say, “That’s not fair. He got a bigger piece than I got.” Or “That’s not fair, she gets to stay up until 10 and I have to go to bed at 9.”
Somehow children believe that simply because they exist (the cause) they should receive exactly what they want when they want it (the effect). One of the most difficult lessons parents have to teach their children is that life is not always fair. We do not always get what we want. It is often hard to teach our children this, because we often don’t completely accept it ourselves.
If I live a good life, am basically a good person, believe in God and go to church, God will protect me and my family. After all, that is the “fair” thing. We are all a little like children in this way. We expect the good or the good enough to be rewarded and the bad to be punished. So, when this cause and effect relationship we have in our minds proves to be untrue, we often find ourselves shaken to our very core. We can find ourselves saying, “If God could let this bad thing happen to me, a basically good person, maybe there is no God.” We can find this kind of cause and effect thinking to be a real threat to our faith.
For me, this is what our Gospel passage is about today. The apostles have met with some adversity in their ministry with Jesus. We have to wonder if they have been asking the same question I mentioned above. “Hey Jesus, we’re following you. We’re good people. We’ve given up our jobs, our families, our homes. Why aren’t we being rewarded? Why isn’t everything going smoothly for us? This isn’t fair! Increase our faith!”
In other words—give us some certainty. Take my struggle and my suffering away from me. And Jesus tells doesn’t give them answers. Jesus doesn’t tell them that there is any kind of reason for their struggle and suffering. Instead, Jesus tells them, “It is not the amount of your faith that is at issue here, for even the smallest amount of faith imaginable would enable you to do amazing things. What is really at issue here is that you are expecting to be rewarded and given special treatment for simply doing what you are supposed to be doing. Let go of your need for things to be fair.”
We are to follow God and participate in God’s work as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, simply because we exist, because this is what we have been created to do and to be. We are to practice loving-kindness because we are, because God created us.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we would realize that what we see as either “fair” or “unfair” is really simply a reflection of “I want x to happen and I’m really angry that y happened instead.” We would like God’s justice to reign down on the world, but have God’s mercy fall only on us. And of course, there are times when life really is just unfair. There are times when truly bad people get away with their bad deeds and even thrive. There are times when truly good people have truly terrible things happen to them. For me, this is where faith comes in. For faith is what allows me to accept that some things just can’t be understood through the lens of cause and effect. Some things are not understandable. And yet, God is somehow still acting in this world. Somehow God is present. And faith is what allows me to get up again and to try once again to be the hands of Christ in the world.