WORD FROM THE PASTOR: I Didn’t Mean for THAT To Happen!

            In 1920, the United States adopted Prohibition–the banning of alcohol. It was promoted by the many Protestant churches that preached against the evils of drink (and who looked down upon immigrant Lutherans with their beer and Roman Catholics with their wine). The churches expected wonderful things to happen–families broken by booze would be mended, lives crippled by alcohol addiction would be healed.

            What actually happened was organized crime. People like Al Capone (who lived for awhile in Amityville to supervise sea-borne delivery of whiskey) became millionaires slaking the illicit thirst of the nation. . Lawlessness became big business. In America, the day Prohibition was enacted, crime was empowered..

            Prohibition is a classic example of unintended consequences. Creating a criminal empire was the last thing on the minds of the well-intentioned folk who banned alcohol. But things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. Trying to solve one problem often creates another, usually bigger problem.

            In the 1970s, the Shah of Iran was seen as an evil dictator. The United States could no longer abide having him as an ally. The Shah’s rival for power was a deeply religious guy, a clergyman whom our state department characterized as “a living saint”, a “Gandhi-like figure”. Our President dropped support for the Shah and let this clergyman take over. Being a religious man himself, the President figured the clergyman would be better than the Shah

            And that’s how we got the Ayatollah Khomeni, and the “religious” psychotics who run the country of Iran today. We intended to deliver the people of Iran from a repressive dictator. Instead, we allowed something infintely more evil to take over.

            The lesson, again: our actions often lead to consequences we can’t foresee.

            A few years back, I got a fundraising letter from a struggling church. Originally, they were St. John’s Lutheran Church. They noticed that their congregation was ageing, and they wanted to bring in a bunch of new people. So they jettisoned the traditional liturgy, dropped the Lutheran name, and simply became “Crosspoint Church”. They did receive some new members...but they lost a huge number of their original members. The new members did not contribute enough to offset the lost offerings of the older members. So they were reaching out for support to every congregation in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. This church is an obvious example of unintended consequences: they didn’t set out to alienate their “base”, but that’s exactly what they did.

            Unintended consequences aren’t always negative. Awhile back, the Coca-Cola company tried to reboot itself by trotting out “New Coke”. A re-engineered drink to appeal to a new generation! Everyone hated it. “Tastes like a Pepsi that’s been sitting out for a couple of days with the cap off,” was one accurate comment. It was a disaster. So Coke immediately put out the original formula as “Coca Cola Classic”. And the public, alarmed at how close they came to losing the real Coke, snapped the Classic up by the gallon. Coke got the “reboot” it wanted, but in a totally unintended way: the failure of the New Coke led to the rebirth of the Old Coke.

            With the exception of New Coke, every example I’ve given of unintended consequences involved religion. Religion seems to breed unintended consequences. That’s probably because religion often comes with an idealism that borders on the naive. Saving the family by banning alcohol...replacing the evil Shah with a “living saint” like Khomeni...transforming the church to attract new believers... These are very idealistic projects. Very godly projects, even! How could they go wrong? (Ironically, the New Coke episode, which was motivated not by idealism but by the desire to make more money, is the only one of my examples that didn’t go wrong). Alas, this sinful world of ours often crushes the dreams of the idealistic and the naive.

            Faith doesn’t have to make us naive. Jesus once said, “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Balance idealism with realism (heck, maybe even with a bit of healthy cynicism).  Religious folk usually do well with the “dove” part, but miss the “serpent” part. People of faith need to be aware of the danger of unintended consequences God does not suffer from this syndrome of doing things without fully foreseeing the consequences. God can see the past, the present, and the future all at once. He knows the full consequences of everything He does. For God, there are no unpleasant surprises. For instance: When He created us, He knew that we would fall into sin. Our rebellion was not a surprise. And He already had a plan to take care of it...a plan called The Cross. He knew we would sin, and He knew that He would have to atone for our sins.

That really shows how great God’s love for us is. He could have avoided the pain and suffering of the cross...by simply not creating us. God saw the cross from the beginning. Yet still...He took that lump of dirt in His hand and made a man. (Genesis 2:7) . God knew full well that His hands, the very hands that fashioned that man out of dirt... would one day be pierced with nails because of that man, and that man’s children. But He went ahead and made the man anyway. That’s love!

            There IS one example of unintended consequences in the story of our salvation. But it’s not God’s plan that goes awry. It’s the Devil’s! The Devil thought that if he killed Jesus, He would be rid of the pesky Son of God forever. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them” (Luke 22:3-4). “The Passion of the Christ” film captures this well–the Devil is in almost every scene, orchestrating the events leading up to Christ’s death. But Satan’s plan to destroy Jesus had an unitended consequence...the Devil ended up destroying his own kingdom, his own power! The cross where the Devil intended to put an end to Jesus...ended up being the instrument of the Devil’s own defeat. On that cross, human sin was paid for, and the Devil’s power over us was broken. This is the granddaddy of all unintended consequences! And for you and me, this unintended consequence brings joy and freedom...through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ

            God loves you and so do I!