Rector's March 2014 Letter

Don’t forget that Lent starts this month, with our Ash Wednesday service, and there will be a Lent Group open to all, so whether or not you are a member of one of our regular congregations, do come along if you are able.  The course we are following has been written in part by our new Bishop of Exeter, an ex-monk, so it will be a good chance to find out more about his understanding of our Christian life.

 

“Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."  Genesis 9:11

 

By the time you read this, will the rain have stopped?  Will the floods have drained away?  Watching the news or looking out of our windows as I write this, we might start to wonder whether God was re-thinking his promise to Noah.  People have been evacuated from their homes; some have died or been injured; businesses have gone bankrupt; herds of animals sent for slaughter.  The normally rather boring ‘predictably unpredictable’ British weather has suddenly gone wild, and people all round the world are suffering from similar freak conditions.

 

Since the beginning of time, people’s reaction to such out-of-the-ordinary natural events and disasters has been to look fearfully at the heavens and ask, ‘Is God angry with us?’  If our national religion was one that recommended sacrifice as a method of propitiating the gods, then no doubt the altars of our national temples would be groaning with the weight of slaughtered animals, and some of the more extreme newspapers would be hinting that perhaps we should be drawing lots to select a human scapegoat for sacrifice!

 

If we read only selected portions of the Old Testament, we might wonder if such interpretation was justified by the Bible, but Jesus tells us not to indulge in this kind of blaming thinking.  When some of his followers asked whose sin was to blame for a recent massacre, Jesus says of that, and of a disaster when a tower fell at nearby Siloam and killed eighteen people, that those who died were not especially guilty people being punished by God.  One of the deepest lessons that Christianity has to teach us is that we are all sinners, and all need God’s forgiveness.  None of us can point at others and say – ‘It’s all their fault!’

 

So how do we fit devastation and suffering into our image of a good and loving God?  It has come close to home at the moment, but we have seen it on our televisions for years, and we know that those caught up in natural and manmade disasters are just ordinary people like ourselves.  It is perhaps easier to understand the devastations caused by war and crime – clearly human wrongdoing is at the root there – but natural disasters are a real stumbling block to many, even though with the advent of global warming, the dividing line between ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ has become hazy and disputable.  But the ancient question remains, ‘Why does God allow it?’

 

There are no easy answers.  But the factors that make our earth a pulsating, shifting ecosystem that can support life instead of being just an inert lump of rock circling a star are the same things that can cause natural disasters.  God does not sit up in heaven deciding to send a flood there or a plague here, any more than he chooses to feed us day by day with miraculous showers of manna.  I believe in miracles, but miracles are by definition rare.  God does not want puppets pulled by heavenly strings of reward and punishment.  Instead, he gives us a world in which our decisions and actions have real consequences; and he has entrusted that world to our keeping.

 

He has made us in his image; as creative beings with the ability to shape our world – to continue his work of loving creation or to destroy.  If over the centuries we had put half the effort into our stewardship of the earth as we have into working out new ways to kill each other, how more advanced would we be?  When we look at the flood defences developed in the Netherlands – by a people who know quite well that ‘nature’ designed much of their land to be under water – we get a picture of what motivated human ingenuity might have developed elsewhere.  If it has not, it is because other things have seemed more important.  And because our actions have natural consequences, God does not need a stock of thunderbolts to tell us when we are wrong.

 

Even in the Old Testament, in the story of the flood itself, this is made clear.  Why does God decide in the Flood story not to destroy the earth?  Genesis 8:21-22  says: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

 

Paradoxically, God doesn’t promise to hold his hand because he thinks humankind has learned its lesson and we promise to do better in future.  If that were the case, we might well be worried that he would rethink.  No, amazingly, it is because he knows exactly how imperfect we are.  He isn’t raining thunderbolts on us; his heart is aching for those who suffer as he waits for us to learn how to use all the gifts he has given us for the good of all.  God’s anger is the kind of anger a loving parent feels when they see their child hurt by its failure to learn the lessons that only experience can teach.  His reaction to our sins is not destruction, but love.  And new chances every day to act with the same compassion and love that he shows us.

 

And his promise in the Biblical flood story continues, in the words that have been echoed in one of our greatest hymns, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’:

 

22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."

 

God’s work in the world is waiting to be done.  And there is only us to do it.

 

Rev’d Karen Spray.  01392 877400   church@revdkaren.org.uk

 


Rector's Pages
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Webpage icon Rector's 2nd March 2015 Letter
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