4:00 pm Today

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
Jerks definitely make the world a more interesting place.
Gary Larson likewise made the world far more interesting during the 15 years that his Far Side cartoons ran in syndication in more than 1,900 newspapers.
Larson is now 72 years old and retired from the craft that made him globally famous.  He put down his pen long before he had run out of off-kilter ideas, figuring it was best to quit while he was still at the top of his game.  The good news for his multitudes of fans is that in 2020 he released some “new stuff” on a Far Side-dedicated website.  Stay tuned.   
As a child Larson was often terrorized by his older brother Dan, who enjoyed hiding in his bedroom at night and springing on him without warning.  That helps explain the number of Far Side cartoons in which creepy monsters are hiding just around the corner.
Larson took so much joy in portraying assorted vermin that he is without doubt the only cartoonist for whom a beetle and a butterfly are named, as well as Strigiphilus garylarsoni, a chewing louse found only on owls.  “I consider this an extreme honor,” he said, acknowledging his namesake louse.
And then there are his theological cartoons.
Larson raises a great question:  Is the world seasoned with jerks because that’s how God decided to cook things up in his cosmic kitchen?  Or is jerkiness a condition that we have brought upon ourselves?
Every philosophy and religion has to account for the fact that the world is a less-than-perfect place.  Why do people cut us off in traffic, double dip their tortilla chips in the queso, act like know-it-alls while being perfectly ignorant, break their promises, and break our hearts? 
Why does every local news broadcast begin with accounts of conflict and chaos, and every national news program reinforce the reality of global suffering and terror?
It’s called the problem of evil.  Or the problem of pain.  It is hands down the most vexing issue of human existence. 
The Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity don’t point the finger at God for the presence of jerks.  But how can we reconcile a supposedly all-powerful God tolerating so much human misbehavior? 
Despite literally millions of books, sermons, homilies, and doctoral theses over the centuries, it’s genuinely hard to put our condition into perspective – to describe in just a few words how the world is simultaneously a place of beauty, brokenness, hope, and despair.
But Will Campbell came pretty close.
The civil rights activist and author was once cornered by his skeptical friend P.D. East, who challenged him to put the good news of Jesus into ten words or less.
Campbell did it in just eight: We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyways.
Or to put it another way:  If God were to solve the problem of pain by removing all the jerks at 4:00 pm today, not one of us would be here at 4:01.
Which calls us to grapple with another good question:
In light of God’s mercy in allowing us to make it all the way to 4:02 pm today, what do you plan to do this week to help redeem and remake our broken world?