Problems Beyond Our Power to Fix

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There are two closely related and almost universal myths which cause sensitive people considerable frustration, guilt and paid. The first myth is that if we are good enough and wise enough we will not have any serious problems. The second is that love, and love alone, will conquer any problem that might arise.

The unadorned truth is that we are imperfect people who live in an imperfect world in which bad things happen to good people. Love does not conquer all, certainly not in the simplistic manner in which most of us think that it does. It is a pleasant thought, but it is a myth.

When our myths fail us, we usually blame ourselves. We forget that what lies beyond our power also lies beyond our responsibility. There are problems in us and around that lie beyond our power to prevent or correct.

One of the most practical parables that Jesus told was the parable of the wheat and the tares. Tares were poisonous weed called "bearded darnel." In the early stages of growth the tares so closely resembled wheat that it was not possible to distinguish one from the other. By the time they were distinguishable, the roots of the wheat and tares were so entangled that it was not possible to weed out the tares without uprooting the wheat. It was essential to let them both grow together until harvest time.

In the parable, a farmer sowed good seed in his field, but in the night an enemy came and sowed tares with the wheat. When the crop began to mature, it became obvious that the noxious weed had been sown with the wheat. The servants offered to pull up the tares, but the wise farmer said: "No, let them both grow together until harvest time. Then we will separate the tares from the wheat."

The diabolical picture of an enemy sowing tares in a wheat field was familiar to the people of Galilee who first heard this parable. This mean deed was sometimes actually done. This crime and its punishment was codified in Roman law.

The disciples were puzzled by the parable and asked Jesus to explain it. He replied by saying that at the end of the age the angels of God would separate the evil from the good.

The lessons of this parable are clear, but they are not easy.

The parable helps us to understand that there will always be tares in the wheat field. One of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples was: "In the world you will always have trouble." (John 16:33) Life is difficult. "The rain falls upon the just and the unjust." (Matthew 5:45) Jesus never promised us that we might become so good or so wise that no tares would ever grow in our wheat fields. Things happen in our world and in our lives that are beyond our power to prevent ~ and beyond our power to fix. No matter how hard we work or how good we may be, something or someone comes by while we are sleeping and sows tares in our field.

When we discover tares in the wheat field, we should not belittle ourselves or despair. Guilt, blame and shame only complicate the problem.

We live in an imperfect world where evil is present as an unavoidable part of life.

The parable also teaches us that sometimes there is not much, if anything, that we can do about the tares in the wheat. Here Jesus teaches us that there are situations in life so tangled that they can never be untangled in this world. There are knots which no mortal can untie. In Thornton Wilder's story, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," there is an old monk who tries to "keep books" for God. He did his best to be conscientious and correct, but things got so mixed up that he finally had to ask for divine forgiveness.

We tend to be a generation that believes everything that goes wrong is amenable to the quick fix. We spend billions of dollars each year for medication to deaden our physical and emotional pain. Our culture encourages this flight to the quick fix by assuring us we can have a pain free life, but this is a myth. Avoidance does not conquer paid but merely delays it while the real problem grows larger and more complicated.

The helping professionals are confronted constantly by people who demand, and are willing to pay for, an immediate solution to whatever may be troubling them. And, for all our knowledge, sincerity, and expertise, there are problems that lie beyond our power to fix. It is shocking to discover that most of the painful problems in our lives and in our world that we cannot fix cannot be fixed by professional fixers either. There are problems that lie beyond our power to fix, at least in the manner in which we are expected to fix them. Is there any counsel of hope?

Recently, a friend recalled an interesting and instructive family experience. He said it was one of those days in which everything had already done wrong with every member of the family. His school teacher wife was trying to prepare the evening meal to the tune of two crying children, when something boiled over on the stove. She threw up her hand and began to cry. My friend said that this happened to be one of the times in which he managed to remain calm, and he quietly asked his wife, "What can I do?" Between sobs she said, "There is nothing you can do. Just comfort me."

There are times in which there is nothing you can do except to give comfort. If this is all that you can do, then, it is enough.

This parable teaches us that there is an evil force afoot in the world. There are evil persons and evil situations which we cannot change in the manner in which Christians usually think of dealing with a problem. In his book about evil entitled People of the Lie, Dr. M. Scott Peck tells of his attempt to rescue a child from evil parents. He makes a philosophical statement about evil in connection with this case that is shocking to those of us who like to think that love can remedy all problems. He said: "I have learned nothing in 20 years (as a psychiatrist) that would suggest that evil people can be rapidly influenced by any other means than raw power. They do not respond, at least in the short run, to either gentle kindness, or any form of spiritual persuasion with which I am familiar." This statement is devastating to those of us who were brought up to believe that love, gentle kindness and spiritual persuasion can solve any problem. There is an evil force in the world which is beyond our power to fix.

The parable teaches us that it is not always easy to distinguish the good and the bad. Sometimes what we think to be a bad person turns out to be good, and the person we first thought to be good may turn out to be evil. The parable teaches us not to be quick in our judgments. This is not a way of coddling evil, but the only sure way of protecting the good. Patience must not be is read as passivity. The tares which are not distinguishable from the wheat at one stage will become clearly recognizable at harvest time.

When Dr. Harold Bosley was pastor of Christ Church in New York City, he preached a sermon entitled, "Shall We Be Patient with Evil?" He pointed out how during the Civil War everything was crystal clear on both sides, if you could judge by what was being said. He then told of an experience he had while visiting a museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where there is a huge painting of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. In front of him was a mother with two small sons who were asking questions. The mother replied softly, "It is hard to tell." The child asked why the were trying to kill each other. The mother patiently tried to explain about slavery and the other issues. "Did they have to fight?" the lad asked. He answer was classic. "They thought so," she said. Dr. Bosley pointed out: "There was in that reply the gentleness distilled in the interval of a hundred years." Socrates once observed: "He who takes only a few things into account finds it easy to pronounce judgment." Be patient! Wait until harvest time.

One of the Jewish traditions concerning the end of this age holds that Elijah will come 3 days before the end. He will right all the wrongs before the Messiah comes. He will restore what has been taken unjustly from the poor and oppressed. If you wrong Jewish persons of that tradition in a manner in which they have no recourse, they will simply say to you: "Wait 'til Elijah comes." Elijah is the court of final adjudication.

We all know tangles we would like to unravel, but after trying we find them to be too complex.

In Shakespeare's early plays all issues are settled in the play. In later plays it is not so, even though divine intervention occurs at the end to adjust inequities. But when you read the great tragedies, such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, the problem became too complex to bring closure at the end of the play. The problems are pushed forward to the next world. If there were no belief in a final harvest, where God's angels come to revise and correct, to separate and judge, how intolerable human life would be.

"Wait 'til Elijah comes."

The parable teaches us that unsolvable problems will be properly handled in the end by God who alone has the wisdom, the power, and the right to judge.

What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ in general, and this parable in particular have to say to people who live each day with problems that are beyond their power to fix. Just because there are no easy answers to the hard problems in life does not mean there are no answers. The Gospel solution is not a quick fix. It is a life-long commitment to the kind of faith and love that is so clearly seen in Jesus. It is not easy. It is not quick. It defies explanation, but when you see it lived out in some life, no explanation is needed.

Let me tell you a story. The first African-American baseball player in the American League was a rookie by the name of Larry Doby. He played for the Cleveland Indians in 1947. He was reputed to be a good player, and an excellent hitter. He came to bat in this first game, and the fans waited to see. It was a disaster. He swung at the first three pitches and missed them all by a least a foot. He struck out. The fans "booed" him off the field. Larry Doby stared at the ground as he walked back to the dugout. He went to the end of the bench, sat down, and put his head in his hands.

The next batter was second baseman Joe Gordon, an All Star hitter, who had always hit this particular pitcher well. Everyone knew he could not only hit the ball, he could put it out of the park. He stepped up to the plate, swung at the first three pitches and missed each pitch by at least a foot. The fans could not believe it. A huge silence fell over the crowd. Joe Gordon stared at the ground as he walked back to the dugout. He went to the end of the bench, sat down by Larry Doby, and put his head in his hands.

That is the stuff of which baseball legends are made. Even today people wonder, did he strike out on purpose? Of course, nobody knows for sure, except Joe Gordon. But, I can tell you this. It is reported that from that day on, Larry Doby never went on the baseball field but that he did not reach down and pick up the glove of his teammate, Joe Gordon, and hand it to him.

What manner of love is this? Even if this act on the part of Joe Gordon meant what we thank that it did, it did not cure the problem of prejudice in the stadium that day, but it did represent everything that one person could to at that time and place and under that circumstance.

If you have done all that you can with some problem that is beyond your power to fix, then it is enough. God will finish the job at harvest time.

When Jesus said that we would have trouble in this world, he added an encouraging word we should never forget. "Take courage," he said, "I have overcome the world." Martin Luther was right when he wrote this line in his great hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

I cannot fix you. You cannot fix you. Do not put your ultimate faith in me, or in yourself, or in any other human being. Wait for the Lord of the Harvest. He will fix you when he comes.

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