To borrow a saying, if I was paid a penny every time someone asked me why God doesn't just prove he's there, I would be rich. I've been asked this a number of times recently - no money though.
Sadly, it seems when God does provide incontrovertible proof; the proof doesn't have much staying power with humans. The revelation seems to quickly wear off. There's so much evidence of this; from the Jews in the Old Testament forgetting their miracle working to God, to first hand experiences of people healed in prayer and then walking away from God.
Indisputable evidence is a poor motivator.
Consider; we have proof that we're changing the climate to the detriment of all, and we won't engage in any substantive action. No-one denies that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, yet few respond. We know our politicians are largely at the beck and call of lobbyists, yet voting apathy seems to be at an all time high. Drugs destroy, yet we take them. Materialism fails to bring joy, yet we are passionate for acquiring the latest offerings. And so it goes on.
Yet belief ... now belief, there's a strong motivator. Well, blind belief; not so much - that vaporises under pressure. Although belief rooted in fear; that gives rise to violent jihadists. But belief founded in hope and joy; now there one finds sacrifice and service that seems indestructible even in the face of death.
Why is that? Is this why God does not simply show himself in undeniable proof? For even Lucifer, in the very face of God, and knowing that he was not God, yet still chose to rebel. It seems this is not only a human condition.
Belief is our individual conclusion based on evidence presented. Belief cannot be taught, only discovered. And what we learn for ourselves is more valuable than any knowledge we're taught. Because its mine, I examined it, I reasoned it, I realized it, I articulated it, and so I believe it because I know it.
Of course I continually re-examine it. And when I come to the same conclusion (whether I like it or not), the belief gets stronger. There's a lot of beliefs I find uncomfortable and maybe wish were not true, but I can't deny evidence and still be honest with myself.
This Christmas, will you re-examine your belief?
From Gavin in the land of Saudi Arabia
I thought I would reflect on one of the overriding impressions I have had of this desert kingdom over the past 3 months or so. It has struck me like the chill of an Arctic breeze.
Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy; less politely stated a dictatorship where people cannot freely exercise their rights by way of voice or vote. Perhaps the one freedom they do have is to consume and the malls are enshrined for this outlet of personal spending gratification. So entrenched is the foundation of Wahabi Islam that religion defines everything from a 5.30AM prayer call to black clad women who almost don't seem present across the day. But is is its exclusivity and seeming contorted sense of itself that is arresting as to my own pursuit of spirituality.
As bewildering and dysfunctional as this can be one needs to suspend judgement. Jesus' injunction to 'love one's enemies' means in a sense viewing something that patently one doesn't like, differently from how ones default abhorrence reaction instinctively springs to life, it seems. This does not imply that one accepts unthinkingly, say the precepts of Islam as interpreted via culture then conflated as religion - Wahabiism, as 'truth'. That remains one's own prerogative. The vexing emotions, that one constantly has to deal with, are up for scrutiny here !
I have just finished a wonderful novel - 'Forty Rules of Love' (Elif Shafak) that explores Sufiism, mystical Islamic spirituality within a love story and presents the faith in a different light yet with many similarities to Christianity - where love over-arches fear; compassion and servitude duty, punishment and reward. Reiterated, I observe that one doesn't have to reject or deny the essence of Islam at source and I begin to understand this more and more albeit the practice thereof slower !Perhaps Jesus encourages us to de-emotionalize - walk with love in our hearts. Why deny yourself this to instead be fuelled by negativity which can cloud thinking, muddle emotions, deflate the spirit. So I must embrace this and attempt to practice non reaction to what slaps me in the face like a big, cold fish at times - to love what is apparently 'different' more. In so doing I in turn will learn to love myself deeper, to be slower to anger, which is imperative in order to love others more.
Paul teaches that we are transformed by spiritual renewal and awareness so that we are set free from legalism - we grow to do things because we 'want to' rather than 'have to'. This has brought my own faith into sharp relief and question. To what extent do I exclude others from my sense of faith or how accessible do I make that faith ? No non Muslim may come anywhere near Mecca or Medina. It is exclusively for the spiritual elevation of Muslims. How close can a non -hristian come to our centres of faith? Does the church make a separation between those who ostensibly are part of the 'church' and those who who aren't by declaration of non faith or non attendance. Sometimes in Saudi Arabia it seems that Wahabiism would work best in the 7th C. How contemporary is Christianity in the 21C? Does the appeal to spirituality resonate with real issues in the same century? How genuinely welcoming are we? Is our gathering one to warm yourself at - alive and heartening or otherwise?
I'd like to look at these questions more finely as they pertain to St.Barnabas and some of the thoughts I have had about the church and its future, next time.
For now I leave you with some words from 'Forty Rules of Love' which suggest the transformative power of love :
This world is like a snowy mountain that echoes your voice. Whatever you speak, good or evil, will somehow come back to you. Therefore, if there is someone who harbours ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse. You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy. Instead for forty days and nights, say and think nice things about that person.Everything will be different after forty days, because you will be different inside.
Messages from a Mom
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21)
I don’t know if sorrow is the right word, I certainly wasn’t too sad about giving up being the size of a minibus, but joy, joy is perfect. As I prepared for the journey to hospital at 4am that winter morning, I took one last look at my enormous belly in the mirror and muttered ‘See you in a bit’ to the little miracle that had blossomed inside me for the last nine months.
Neither my husband nor I remember much about the journey to the hospital, we were both incredibly nervous and locked in our own private conversations with God. We’d marked the evening before by going to watch the sunset on Signal Hill trusting that, by the time the sun rose again, we’d be parents. It was a deeply meditative and introspective time, neither of us entirely sure about what was about to happen, how it would change things, and whether everything would go as we hoped. We really had to give all our unspoken fears over to the Lord as we’re told to do in 1 Peter 5.
Nothing prepares you for the birth of your first child. No antenatal classes that we so diligently attended, none of the numerous blog articles I spent nine months pouring over and none of the anecdotes from all the other mothers who had been there before. That is because each of us, from our birth to our final moments have been individually and intricately knitted together by God’s own hand. And, as it says in 1 Corinthians, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. How. Incredible. Is. That? We are each of us a living breathing piece of God’s own art!
Although I was doubtless one of many women who lay on the hospital theatre bed that day, my little delivery was an individual miracle and unique blessing, each of her downy little hairs numbered (Luke 12:7). And as I peered under the folds of countless blankets at her little button nose, I sighed, made in God’s own image, He must indeed be perfect.
When I say nothing prepares you for the birth of your first child, I’m not talking about the sleepless nights or the sudden demand to be able to change a nappy while disposing of the last at breakneck speed, often in the back of a (moving) car, I’m talking about the emotions that pour forth from every inch of your being the single moment you hear their first gasp for breath. I thought I’d experienced joy before and, happily married, I was pretty sure I knew what unconditional love felt like, but the love you feel for your children is the sort of perfect love described in 1 Corinthians 134-7.
My husband was a different man, transformed by love, his face shone with pride and adoration as if it was the Lord’s own face shining upon him (Numbers 6:25). Seeing this love, it is remarkable and reassuring that our Heavenly Father loves us in the same way, He is delighted by our every triumph and shoulders every one of our sorrows. Watching our little girl, cradled in her Father’s arms, safe from the world, I was reminded of the scripture that says, ‘He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for His children it will be a refuge’. Proverb 14:26
Over the first few days, as we welcomed friends and family, I noticed how our precious, perfect gift from above (James 1:17), brought similar joy to all who held her. I feel so privileged to have been able to give my Mum her first grandchild; the Bible says that Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, (Proverbs 17:6). When I first saw my Mum hold her granddaughter when she was just a few hours old, it was a truly beautiful moment. When my husband’s parents joined us to meet their seventh grandchild I realised how infinite love really is, they immediately fell in love with her as if she was their first grandchild all over again.
One thing is for sure; babies bring out the best in people. Remembering the love and tenderness everyone showed her, from hospital staff to grandparents, and seeing how strangers soften when they see her 18 months later, it makes me wonder at what age do we stop loving other people like this. We are all somebody’s son or daughter, each of us has been that little child, and in the Lord’s eyes we are still as precious and certainly as vulnerable. Perhaps we should look upon each other as the children we all still are and afford everyone the same unquestioning love and affection we so naturally bestow upon the young. Surely the perfect unconditional love we have for our children is too good to be limited to them alone, in fact we are instructed to, ‘love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.’ (John 13:34-35) So my challenge today is to try to see other people as our Heavenly Father sees them, as His children, who He loves like a father loves his flesh and blood, for ‘so it is with Christ's body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.’ Romans 12:5