William Willimon tackles the difficult subject of God's temporal judgment in a direct yet conversational way. He begins by mentioning Rabbi Kushner, whose book will come up again in Willimon's second point. Kushner's position—that bad things happen because of chance—is the position Willimon wishes to counter. Willimon builds his case on the story of Daniel 5, in which God's judgment is dramatic and fitting. After a lively retelling of the story, Willimon touches on the chance argument, then reminds his listeners of a truth they find it convenient to forget: not always, but often, we do reap the consequences of our actions. Two examples illustrate this idea. Willimon's conclusion is a story with a twist.
Everybody longs for a just world.
A few years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner made religious publishing history with his phenomenally successful book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. There were those who said Rabbi Kushner had sidestepped the toughest moral question: Why on earth do good things happen to bad people?
One reason we love Bible stories like this one from the Book of Daniel is that people get what they deserve. That's a rare occurrence in life but a virtually everyday one in the Bible.
In real life, creeps are rarely visibly, swiftly punished. Creeps get elected to public office, become presidents of large corporations, pastors of large churches, officers in fraternities. But in the Bible, creeps get incinerated in fiery furnaces. They get eaten by lions. They get drowned in floods. They get their heads cut off—or worse. And don't lie to me: you just love that.
Everybody longs for a world in which there is justice, even if the workings of justice are sometimes gruesome—maybe particularly ...
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William Willimon is bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. He also is editor of Pulpit Resource and the Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching (Westminster John Knox) and author of Undone by Easter (Abingdon).