The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


God on Our Side?

What does it mean to have God on our side when we are defeated and suffering?

by Russell Rathbun

Psalm Reading: Psalm 124

For Sunday, August 21 , 2011: Year A—Ordinary 21

We are meaning makers, we human beings.

When we lie on our backs and look up at the clouds, or the acoustic tile ceiling of a damp motel room, and see a face or butterfly in the pattern, or when we are in a car accident or a friend’s MRI brings bad news we like to think— everything happens for a reason.

Beyond the Moment

Humans have an innate desire to find purpose and design beyond the moment, the facts, the what is.

This looks like faith to a lot of people and superstition or denial to others. I do not mean to belittle this inclination. I think it’s one of the most compelling tenants of our faith is that truth, love, meaning is not generated by us, but necessarily comes from outside of us, beyond us.

However, there is a lot of open space between that and everything happens for a reason.

Divine Explanation?

Psalm 124 lands somewhere in that space between theological utterance and folk saying.

The author is expressing a kind of gratitude for a narrow escape or a divine explanation for avoiding complete catastrophe, saying: Think how bad it would have been if we had not had the Lord on our side. They would have swallowed us up, swept us aside, eaten us for lunch; but because God is on our side we live another day.

I find a darker and more interesting question implied by this Psalm. If God is on our side, why did our enemies even threaten us to begin with? A narrow escape? Why was there even a need to escape at all? If God is on our side why doesn’t God rebuff any trouble before it even starts?

The Hardest Question

I believe deeply that God is with us and for us. But I also know that that does not mean victory for all people all the time. What does it mean to have God on our side when we are defeated and suffering?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Noell Rathbun says:

    Thanks for this reflection and question. This topic is always such a struggle for me. (Also I like that we have the same last name!)

    peace to you.

How do you read?