Another Day

17 05 2008

So another day arrives. It’s a day of cloud and,  we’re told, rain. Yesterday was the same but the previous ten days were bright sunshine and blue skies. The weather in the UK changes so quickly. If it wasn’t for the weather people we’d be living in constant surprise. Variety, they say, is the spice of life.  Variety isn’t always good though and talk of the weather can be utterly mundane in the face of the bigger issues of life.

The news of the past two weeks has largely focused on two natural catastrophes, one in Burma and one in China. In both of them there has been large loss of life. We have now grown used to seeing on TV bodies floating in murky water or lying in open scrubby land or being dragged out from under piles of rubble. In the eyes of the media the second one, the earthquake in China has eclipsed the first one, the hurricane and flooding in Burma. This seems a bad thing because the magnitude of the first one seems much greater and also seems to need the pressure of world opinion and politics to make the generals’ junta of Burma act to let help come it, which hasn’t been happening.

As this is supposed to be a blog about faith, it might be useful to ponder some lessons from these two terrible events. We may not be able to influence them, but perhaps we can learn from them. The first and obvious thing that comes to mind is the whole question of the problem of evil and suffering, and God’s activity or inactivity. For the atheist with no God to blame, this is just an example of a terrible world that does terrible things to its inhabitants. For the Christian believer it is not so cut and dried as that. There’s a bigger picture and that involves a God of good who made this world perfect, yet within that perfect design had to build in free will into humanity. It is a world that is both material and spiritual and the spiritual affects the material. With the exercise of that free will to reject God and go their own way (Gen 3), that expression of what the Bible calls Sin, appears to have spiritual impact on the material world that makes it ‘malfunction’. Thus we have tectonic  plates moving to cause earthquakes and weather systems that get out of hand, all materially and scientifically explained things but with spiritual backgrounds, according to the Bible.

Why doesn’t God step in and stop it, asks the cynic?  Because He has given mankind that freedom and to remove it means He removes free will and we cease to be human beings. Should He stop us living with the consequences of our actions?  Similarly that would flow against His constant desire to let us be who we are, and that includes being people who learn about responsibility and consequences. Those are the first big issues that face us every time such a thing happens, but there are issues about us, not God, that are revealed here.

Suppose you were a friendly alien visiting this planet. Suppose you skim round the world and observe all that is going on. What sort of opinion might you arrive at in respect of these creatures who apparently rule the planet over all other creatures?  Flying over Burma or China, or possibly any other nation for that matter, how might our advanced alien observer think about each of these ‘nations’ where ruling juntas (or whatever) live in great affluence and power but large numbers of their population live in abject poverty? What might he (or she) think about the fact that everyone takes it for granted that the slums of Mumbai (for example) exist while some Indians live with incredible wealth. What would they think of a world where generals refuse to let in helpers while millions of people suffer and hundreds of thousands die?

I get annoyed at hearing that old criticism of God being trotted out, “Well, as I drove into town on a bus, I saw a dog caught up in barbed wire, and later in the day when returning home, it was still there, severely hurt and dying. Surely if there was a God he’d do something and wouldn’t let it suffer.” Get off the bus you insensitive idiot. You are God’s answer to the dog’s suffering!  Do something about it!  But the callous insensitivity of such carping criticisms reveal the heart of sin: we’d rather find reasons to blame God than listen to Him and receive His wisdom and grace to provide help in the face of need.  One day we will face Him in heaven and perhaps He’ll ask, “Why didn’t you listen to me? Why didn’t you take what I was offering, the ability to act and bring change?” But perhaps He won’t ask such a question because we already know the answer.

We human beings have tremendous potential for goodness and greatness and I don’t doubt that there are many people who are not Christians who are both good and great because we are all made in the image of God and these things are naturally there in all of us; it’s just that in most they are largely crushed by the sin thing.  I rejoice in goodness wherever I see it, in whoever it might be, but I also rejoice in something else, something that seems even more wonderful. It is when some of those people who are subjugated by sin and who live miserable, self-centred lives, hear the good news about Jesus Christ and respond to it and have their lives utterly transformed.  As I watch I see now there is hope, now there is joy, now there is concern, compassion and action, now there is humility, gentleness, graciousness and goodness. These are the things I see happen within the human race, and these things give me hope, on a bad day when juntas refuse to care, politicians takes bribes and two thousand and one other expressions of bad are expressed in the papers or on TV.

In the face of the most terrible of disasters we have to look at the bigger picture. There is a world after this world; death is not the end. There is hope in the midst of pain and terror, for God IS there, reaching out arms of compassion and comfort and, for us onlookers, wisdom to know how to help. That help may not be for the big disaster, it may be for the old lady around the corner, the single parent family along the road, the old guy living in a cardboard box, and who knows who else. The worst thing we can do is just stand and watch and do nothing. God’s love has been expressed through the incredible life of His Son, Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection.  Christians realise that this was to bring us forgiveness, meaning, hope, restoration and reconciliation, and all that means a new life. Each such new life is a means to bless the world with His love even more – yes, even in the face of the mega-disaster – but perhaps even more for the ‘people next door’.

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