For once I don’t know where to start. My mind is awash with images of unspeakable tragedy, cowardice and hatred. At this time I am struggling to see a future filled with hope and love at all.
I try very much to understand the human soul, to try and get to a place where I can come to terms with something of why people do what they do. Whilst often being dismayed by the actions of so many (myself included), I think before last week I have been able to get to the point of understanding most human behaviour. But not when it comes to the abuse of children. I mean what in the name of all that is good and decent drives someone to rape a twelve week old girl and film it?
Someone described me the other day as a smiling pessimist – I think I prefer cynical optimist. I try not to close my eyes to the horrors of this world, rather allowing sensitive, intelligent, compassionate engagement to allow at least an understanding of what brings so many to acts of despair and duplicity, which in turn bring hurt and pain to others. Yet I have never felt so unable to comprehend the cruelty we have seen in recent days.
I’ve got to a point where I don’t so much like to read the Bible; I like the Bible to read me. And so it is over the last week or so two stories from Scripture have screamed at me. Firstly one of judgement, where Jesus says it would be better for people who committed offences against children to have millstones put around their necks and be cast into the sea. And if that’s not sobering enough there’s a passage in Genesis that I have never heard preached on, but that haunts my soul to its center.
God has just finished creating his world, and initially his comment is that he sees it as something good. Then along come we humans in all our glory. By the time of Noah God seems to be pulling his hair out. In fact he is so angry the Bible says this:
“And God regretted that he had made man on earth and it grieved him to his very core.”
I’m not sure there is another sentence in Scripture that bothers me as does this one. It begs us all to ask questions, questions that just might save us from ourselves. Does God still have days where he asks the same? And if he does what’s our responsibility in the equation? I am thankful there is a Carpenter in heaven bending God’s ear on our behalf, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play.
In my concern that God still has these kinds of regrets, I have a theological observation. There are two ways that religion has been brought into public life in Western history. The first way – “God on our side” - leads inevitably to triumphalism, self-righteousness, bad theology, and, often, dangerous foreign policy. The like of which we are seeing more and more in today’s world – no names mentioned. The second way - asking if we are on God's side - leads to much better things, namely, penitence and even repentance, humility, reflection, and even accountability. We need much more of all those, because these are often the missing values of politics and faith.
Abraham Lincoln was right. Our task should not be to invoke Christianity and the name of God by claiming God's blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side. Jim Wallis explores this idea superbly well in his book ‘God’s Politics’.
I grieve the madness of this world, and I lament that for reasons that for many just don’t add up, bad things happen to good and innocent people. Most of the time this causes me to stumble after a mystery I do not understand, but it is a mystery I do not want to live without. For from within this mystery of faith there does lie hope. I take heart from the Man of Sorrows and the best moments and lives of those who follow him. One such person is Desmond Tutu. Amidst the chaos and heartbreak I do believe good will in the end prevail.
No matter how desperate the situations Archbishop Tutu must have found himself in those dark days of apartheid, he never stopped believing in a bigger picture and love. And so it was that through the actions of those willing to live out the legacy of Christ good did overcome the darkness. I therefore close with the words and wisdom of Archbishop Tutu:
“God still is ready to jeopardise the success of whatever divine enterprise he undertakes. He is willing to limit the power and effectiveness by waiting on the willingness and ability of his human partners. God is as strong as the weakest of his frail collaborators. God is as successful as we care to make him…”