Whether it’s the appalling human atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine or the fear that families here are chosing between staying warm or being fed or the existential climate crisis (will we still have a planet fit for habitation in even 5 years time?) – the question above is the obvious one being asked by people of faith or by people looking for faith (and therefore some sense of hope).
So what’s the answer?
The sheer overwhelming awfulness of human behaviour is indeed depressing (and all of the above can be attributed to human failure: human greed, human self-protection, human pride and power grabs, the ‘me first’ mentality). But the world is actually no worse than it ever was. Human beings (ie all of us) have always behaved badly. Our current agnst is only because we are more aware of the impact of human behaviour.
There is actually no correlation between how bad human beings are and whether or not God exists. God either exists or he/she doesn’t, regardless of the mess human beings make. Those two truths are actually unconnected.
I know… I know. I’m simplifying things.
I get it that the reason why many people conclude that God doesn’t exist is because they think ‘why has he let things get in such a mess?’ or ‘why doesn’t God do something?’
It’s all a question of whether or not we can see/discern God at work in the world (and also a question of whether or not we want to face up to our responsiblity to play our part, blaming God is an easy way of dodging this second question).
It’s reasonably easy to see God in creation: the world and universe is amazing, incredible and shows definete signs of intelligent life. Nature ‘sings’ and it’s song speaks of a Creator.
But what about seeing God in history? Past or present. When we look around at the sheer overwhelming awfulness of human behaviour, back in history (the crusades, so many genocides in so many places, wars) or around us now in current affairs – the picture is pretty grim in either direction. But the world is not any worse (or any better) than it ever was, it has always been this bad.
And it’s not just the BIG picture that’s bad (nations in conflict, minorities oppressed, the hungry, the displaced, the homeless, the refugees) but it’s often only when the small and personal picture of our own lives becomes murcky, when we are appallingly or unkindly treated by someone close to us that we really start to complain. This personal, narrow dimension is when the rubber really hits the road. We can tolerate a pretty bad ‘BIG picture’ because ‘it’s those people out there and we have these people in here who keep us cosy and/or we have pizza on Friday’ (or whatever it is that brings us joy!).
Eugene Peterson in his brilliant book Christ Plays in a Thousand Places writes
“a major difficulty in embracing history as the field for salvation (in other words for seeing God at work in our actual human lives) … is the sheer mass of relentless and assertive counter-evidence” (the bit in brackets is my clarification).
He goes on to say ‘some find this insurmountable’ – no kidding?
He acknowledges that the loudest and most conspicuous players in history (past or present) are definetely not ‘playing fair’. In other words they are not decent caring human beings whose lives are guide by ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ let alone ‘love God with all your heart, mind and soul.
Instead those people we see in charge or our world and those we are currently blaming are driven by ego, pride, a desire for power, self-protection, greed and fear.
So can we see God at work in the world’s story or can’t we?
Well YES we can. And there is no better day than today to assert this than today. As we begin our journey through Easter weekend, the whole of Christendom is recalling that God has definitively stepped into human history and DONE SOMETHING.
Done something massive.
There is only one person who has entered the stage of history and played by a totally different set of values:
Jesue taught and lived by the value of LOVE – for everyone (darn it) friends, neighbours AND enemies – need evidence for that? ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do?’ said for those hammering the nails into his hands.
His way of life shows humanity the only valid alternative; a life of self-sacrifice, a life of ‘agape’ love, love that puts the needs of the other before our own.
His life demonstrated a FAITH in a deeper underling reality that God is present and is loving and can be relied on regardless of how we feel ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ and ‘Not my will but yours be done’.
He demonstrated a HOPE which was not trite optimism (we are going to need more than that, folks!) Of him it was written ‘who for the joy set before him endured the cross’. This hope is not mere optimism, it is a sustaining belief that can carry you through the misery, it is deep and sustaining belief that one day everything that is bad will one day be turned around.
Christ’s followers are called to live by these same values. Whenever I see evidence of this, I see evidence of where God is in all this and what he/she might be doing.
I’ll leave you with the prayer for last Sunday Palm Sunday, it feels like a fitting conclusion to this reflection.
Christ crucified draw you to himself
to find in him a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope
and the assurance of sins forgiven,
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Be among you and remain with you always.