Like many of you, I was talking to someone this week about the war in Ukraine and the destructive evil we see in different parts of the world at the moment. Nowhere seems to be immune and the uncontrolled chaos feels very present and real and the readings this week speak about this experience. We find ourselves asking where is God in this chaos?
In the Gospel reading Luke 13:1-9 we discover as Jesus was preaching and teaching, he was told about some Jews Pilate had killed in the temple, mixing their blood with the blood of their sacrifices (Luke 13:1); and, in his reply, Jesus referred also to some Jews who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them, a tragic accident perhaps. (13:4) Whether murder or accident, like the Jews, we are left bewildered, grieving, frightened and anxious about why such things happen and what it means. In the threatening, violent global conflicts at the moment, we too are standing close to Jesus to hear what he might say about God’s saving and steadfast love in the face of unpredictable, cruel and vindictive terror.
Jesus highlights our temptation to blame those killed, those who are suffering for their fate as we seek to keep ourselves safe. We do it so easily and thoughtlessly. Those living in poverty clearly have only themselves to blame; those who are victims and survivors of domestic violence somehow brought it upon themselves by the clothes they wore, or the man they chose, or their behaviour which caused the violence; the refugees currently locked up in Australian concentration camps without access to justice only have themselves to blame for not following the right processes – and so on.
It’s very similar to Jesus’ own culture. You may recall the story about Jesus healing the blind man in John’s Gospel, Ch. 9.
Jesus’ disciples asked him: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ (John 9:2-5)
Jesus healed the man’s blindness and told the man:
‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (9:6)
Siloam, the place where 18 people were killed by its tower falling on them. We are tempted to blame the other person for their suffering rather than ourselves or the systems we support, and when we can’t, we start to ask, ‘where is God in the chaos?’
I want to invite you to think about where God is in these times? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Protestant pastor and theologian, in Nazi Germany who found himself in prison because he had been involved in plot to assassinate Hitler. He wrote a few weeks before he died:
God would have us know we must live as people who manage our lives with the experience of living without God. ‘The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us’. The God who knows we live in the world without the working hypothesis, the God we believe in is the God before whom we stand continually whether or not we know, accept, recognise or deny and betray. (Morgan 13/03/22)
Bonhoeffer was reflecting on our own limited understanding of God, our own projections of faith and expectation and in the end, this wasn’t about losing faith, but it was about the tension we often experience of both faith and doubt, not an ‘either or’, black and white reality but our lives lived with God who is sometimes experienced and sometimes whose existence is questioned. As we watch the world descending into darkness, the wickedness of a current despotic leader projecting profound evil onto an innocent country and its civilians, is simply the latest in a long line of wickedness, in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Bosnia and Serbia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Hong Kong, East Timor and there is a very long list. We perhaps come to read and hear differently and freshly, the words of Isaiah (55:8-9)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
We inevitably encounter God differently as we die to our selves and begin to be open to God as God is, not as we demand or require God to be, with us, in our own image, remade so we might understand and make sense of God in this world and then control and share such a God on our terms.
As we look at the devastation wrought around us with war, flood, famine, fire and illness, we can choose to experience both the vastness of God as well as the intimacy of God. In all power and rawness, God has not died, God is not nothing, but what has died is our concept of God and we can come closer to God as our human constructs disappoint and fail us and we finally start to simply be. Just as Job’s companions tried to blame Job for his misfortunes, and Job tried to blame God, finally when all the grief and fear are burnt away, Job hears God speaking.
All our imaginings about what God must be and will do for us if we’re good, if we’re worthy and deserving, are human beliefs, and in our Lenten pilgrimage of prayer and fasting, we relearn how to live in the world ‘without the human working concept of God’. We are then able perhaps if we’re alert and awake, to embrace God’s existence without confining God to the limits of human belief. Our soul’s recognition of the practice and hope of justice, truth and love and the way we live in God’s love is ultimately God’s self.
As we come closer to the death of our own selves, whether at our life’s physical ending or spiritually as we journey in faith ever deeper into God’s embrace, while letting go of all that keeps us separated from God, the joy we experience at God’s constant presence is absolute reassurance of God’s eternal, all-encompassing love woven steadfastly and abundantly into our lives as God does not count the cost, but simply loves us.
The Lord be with you.
Pathos.com 15March2022 Vance Morgan ‘The God Who is With Us and Forsakes Us’
Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [General Eds]. 2014. Feasting on the Gospels. Luke, Vol. 2 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.