A video version of my answer – for those who prefer to watch… text underneath, if you prefer to read.
You may have noticed that we (along with many others) are doing an awful lot of praying, our daily prayers are being posted up on our Facebook page
and hopefully will also be on our Peter John Church website shortly too.
But you may well be wondering: what’s all this prayer achieving? Where is God in all this? Why doesn’t he or she seem to be intervening?
What’s the point of prayer and worship at a time like this?
Foolishly I know, because these are big questions, I’m going to try give you just a few short answers in this video.
Firstly where is God in all this? The Christian belief is that he is right here with us alongside us, weeping with us, feeling our pain, and offering us his constant presence and loving support. The fact that we sometimes can’t feel that has more to do with the static of anxiety in our minds and hearts, than with any shortage of its availability.
Secondly, why doesn’t God step in to dramatically stop the virus in its tracks? Undoubtedly many of us are praying for exactly that, so why doesn’t God seem to be responding?
Two possible answers to that question: how do you know God is NOT responding? God’s answers often come through human agencies, so when we fling at God the question “what are you doing about this God?” He will often reply, putting us back on our own 2 feet as it were, asking us to be responsible for ourselves and one another and says “what are you doing about it?”
Yes I understand that we all want the big dramatic miracle, but I’m not going to close my eyes and fail to see the thousands and thousands of small miracles that come about when people choose live faithfully by God’s ways of compassion, showing kindness and generosity to other human beings. And these miracles are not limited to those who would describe themselves as Christians, but they break out all over the place.
The second answer to the “why is God not responding” question addresses the fears and anger that lie behind that question. We are afraid that this is happening because either there isn’t a God, in which case life is all pretty meaningless, or because there is a God and he is angry and or distant from us and indifferent, and not surprisingly we are angry about that. Or hurt, asking ourselves what have we done to deserve this?
I really would like to answer that question very clearly, whatever else you hear out there in the Internet world, I firmly do not believe that this is a “punishment” from God. It isn’t that I think we don’t do things wrong, of course we do things wrong, we are fallible, often stupid, often inconsiderate and sometimes pig headed. Of course we do things wrong and we screw up, that’s why an essential part of any Christian prayer is a prayer of confession admitting our weaknesses and failures. But as for the idea of punishment, that just isn’t the God I know. God promises us that when we acknowledge our failures or mistakes we are met with overflowing forgiveness and compassion. So is this virus some huge massive universal punishment? No. There is a world of a difference between the word punishment and the word consequence.
Is this virus possibly a consequence of us living selfishly and inconsiderately on our planet, not caring for creation tearing down habitats might be one reason why viruses that exist in the animal world have been able to cross into the human population. I’m not a scientist so I don’t know that’s a fact. But I do understand that God is a heavenly parent like a father or mother and that if and when we live selfishly, inconsiderately of our fellow human beings it will not help us if we are allowed to simply swerve the consequences of our actions.
So let’s just be clear: no one who has contracted the virus is being personally picked on by a vengeful punishing God. This virus is one of those crappy consequences of living in an imperfect world.
It’s a consequence we have to learn to deal with and it’s a consequence which I hope will help humanity to mature. And that maturity might be expressed by greater global consideration and cooperation.
So there is a world of difference between the words punishment and consequence. Secondly there is a world of a difference between the words anger and anguish. If you are familiar with reading particularly the old Testament in an English version of the Bible, you could be forgiven for thinking of God as an angry God. Recently I have been reading, ‘The Lost Message of Paul’ by Steve Chalke, in which he quotes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who says “it is perhaps better, and far more accurate, to understand God’s anger as his anguish, and dimension of his love, but never an emotion in opposition to it”.
“God is love” this is the very definition of who and how God is – the words anger and wrath are very hard for us to get our head around, how can they coexist in a God who is love? But we can speak about God’s love and God’s anguish in the same breath.
Yes, God is anguished in the same way that a parent is anguished when they see a beloved child behaving in a way that is harmful or self-destructive. That parent is anguished when a child rejects them, that parent is anguished to see that child in pain or poverty or loneliness or in any difficult experience that comes into the child’s life as a consequence of that child’s living apart from the love of the parent.
God is anguished for us, his children. When we choose to live without reference to his presence and his love we close ourselves off from the offer of God’s loving presence and activity in our lives. It is my belief that ultimately we can never fully do that God will not allow us his love is too great.
So God isn’t angry and this isn’t a punishment. God is present and available and lovingly able to turn all the terrible things that we might have to endure to ultimate good.
Those are the reasons why we believe in God and pray at a time like this.