Some people are finding it hard to believe in God at the moment.
During a pandemic that is threatening to wipe out so many people and cause a trail of destruction the notion of an all-loving, all-powerful God can feel completely absurd.
Others are preaching that this is God’s punishment on a world that has largely rejected God. Which is also a bitter pill to swallow.
i have been wrestling with my faith in God in different ways since our time in America almost eight years ago. Which coincides with my eyes having been opened widely to the notion of Justice in the world [especially as far as race and the poor are concerned] and how connected they are to a Biblical understanding of God.
Jesus and Justice?
As my journey into Justice has deepened, so my frustration with the church at large [particularly when they seem to run as if Justice was not a crucial and foundational part of their DNA, and especially in the case of at least one pastor and church in Cape Town where it sounds very much like they preach it as a nice but optional extra.] has grown.
Don’t get me wrong, i love the church, in terms of the gathered groups of Jesus-followers and disciples that Jesus called us to be. But from the extremes of Westboro Baptist church in the States to the prosperity-doctrined televangelist model all the way across to the sometimes more alarming apathy and disconnectedness to be found in churches that are so focused on themselves and being separate from the world around them, there is enough cause for alarm at what is very much not a healthy church.
However, my love for Jesus just grows. i have never had any issues with Jesus – His words, His life, His attitude and His focus have always mesmerised me. And continue to.
How do you hold on to God and Corona Virus?
Which brings us back to this question of whether or not we blame God? Or choose to step away from our belief in God because of our present circumstances?
i was thinking about that this morning and was reminded of an old Eric Clapton song, ‘Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.’
Now i don’t believe that Eric Clapton saw himself as channeling a prophetic message from God when he wrote that.
But i do think that before we throw responsibility of our present global devastation at God, that it is something we have to consider.
We [collectively, as the world] are not doing so great. The current Pandemic has perhaps distracted most of us from the impending climate change challenges that were being spoken about around the world in greater and louder ways. Refugee camps in America [and around the world] have shown us how easy it is for humans to treat other humans like animals or worse, when the degree of separation is large enough. Meanwhile, on our own doorstep, in Cape Town, South Africa, we have found ways of rounding up the homeless and stuffing them all together in tent camps at a time when social and physical distancing is being practiced and urged around the globe.
Add to this our economic systems which allow [and praise and celebrate] a small percentage of people to hold the majority of the world and country resources while millions live below the poverty line. A world that says it’s okay for one man to own a yacht while another will likely die because she cannot find her next meal. We send truckloads of fruit to be emptied in the desert because price manipulation rather than use them to feed the hungry that we ignore on our doorsteps.
Before you blame God, take a look at your[my]self
i honestly don’t know that punishment from God theory is so undeserved, whether it is true or not. We [collectively] are pretty awful. Destroying our planet, having little consideration for those who must follow; choosing certain people and lifestyles and looks to elevate while we throw everyone else to the gutter.
Many of us are probably just complicit to the world evils with a response something along the lines of: ‘Well that’s the way it is [capitalism, government, inequality] what can i do?’ and many spread the lie, ‘If you work hard enough anyone can succeed?’ as if all the CEOs of the world are the hard workers and all the township residents the lazy slackers.
If someone suggests that the current world situation is caused by God we go ballistic. WHAT KIND OF A GOD WOULD ACT IN THIS WAY?
What kind of people would act in this way?
While the mirror whispers knowingly to us, ‘What kind of a people would act in a way that leads us to the end of 2019 and the way looked before corona virus was even a thing?’
Whether you believe in God or not seems to be irrelevant on this point. Those of us who believe in a God believe that God becomes present with those who are suffering and shows up in places where people have been pushed to the side. That God moves us beyond what is normal to get involved and make a difference and work for the betterment of all and of the planet. But it doesn’t change the fact that we need to be a whole lot better. Especially any of us who get caught in religious cosplay and think that is enough.
And if you don’t believe in God then the onus might feel even a little more on you. We cannot carry on living the way we are and act surprised when issues like climate change, refugees or the treatment of the homeless and marginalised come back and bite us.
For those who do believe in God, there is a response to a prayer in the Old Testament that feels so super relevant now. We cannot just assume that because God said this to the Israelites back then, that is does apply to us. But i think if we have studied the character of God, especially as represented in the life and work of Jesus, that this does still feel like it might apply.
13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
But we cannot quote bits of that response without taking heed of the ‘Humble themselves’ bit. Or the ‘pray and seek My face’ bit. And maybe most importantly, the ‘Turn from their wicked ways’ bit.
Let’s be honest here, even if this response doesn’t apply to us, those are not the worst things to give some attention to. As individuals and where we are part of churches, this time in lockdown is a huge Pause Button on life as normal. An opportunity to spend some time looking in the mirror [the metaphorical one!]. This is probably our best opportunity to change things as we knew them before. To turn away from any wicked ways we may have been participating in [paying those who work for you less than they need to live is one example that comes to mind] and to live Jesus-focused lives.
Part of Jesus’ response when asked, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ was to say, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” and if the church alone took this command seriously [i have no idea how you can be part of a church that thinks Justice is optional when it is embedded in the greatest command] the world would look absolutely different. We would not have pastors living in mansions while people slept on the streets. For starters.
So do we blame God? Or do we look in the mirror and blame ourselves. For a world we seem generally okay to live in that still encourages abuse and racism and violence [in so many different forms] to certain people and groups of people and refuses to take violence against women and children seriously.
Do we realise the need for a serious rethink and reshift of attitude and action and even word and then start to ask where God might be in all of that which needs to happen? My guess is we will find God comforting the poor and hanging out with those who are fearful about what the future brings. We will discover God’s presence in the hospital rooms, in Strandfontein and in the townships. We will be aware of the Holy Spirit deeply moving in and around and near all those who are on the front lines.
The God who promises to be close to the broken-hearted and to save those who are crushed in spirit. [Psalm 34.18] And maybe more urgently, the God who once promised the end to a plague just as long as God’s people repented and turned away for their wicked ways…