God on our side?
Well...is God on our side in 2020?
As another year begins and we look to an unknown future, people seem to be deciding who they trust in 2020. Some are selling – and buying – the idea of a ‘safe’ God as a kind of cushion against uncertainty and a possibly harsh reality. President Trump assured his Christian supporters in Miami last week that ‘God is on our side’. Preachers and teachers – and children’s story tellers ‘sell’ ‘God as a comfort blanket’ as a means of encouraging faith.
I wonder which of them has looked at the world around them. At the beginning of 2020, millions of Christians facing persecution, poverty and displacement because of their religion know that faith is not enough to protect the people of God from danger.
'Ordinary' Christian families facing sudden bereavement, illness and disappointment of all kinds might just be more likely to resonate with a quotation from a secular film, The Princess Bride: ‘ Life is pain... Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.’
‘Selling religion’ is an activity condemned in the severest terms in the New Testament. So – as we continue to seek for God in 2020, I ask myself which words about God I have been offered to me that are true to my experience? Certainly not a neat package of assurance that ‘God will take care of you!’ or even as some others say, ‘God is in control’. It won't work in the hospice or the waiting room. It all sounds a bit too mechanical. It’s too neat a package!
I was struck again this Christmas with the idea that Jesus’ first coming into the world was a messy business. The gospels don’t say it in so many words – but all births are messy! Safe, neatly packaged words cannot do justice to the business of God’s entrance into our lives. The Bethlehem story of the baby and the shepherds and the foreign potentates following an astrological sign – all give the lie to God’s actions being predictable and certain. God never comes into the world without ‘mess’ or, I believe, or without mystery. I must expect that in 2020.
Just before the new year began, I was delighted as I read Mark Oakley’s prologue to his book, Collage of God. I cannot do justice to the richness of this little book in a few words. Just let me say that I had read four pages in a borrowed copy before I knew I had to have a copy of my own. For me, it’s a book to read slowly and ‘chew’ on.
Oakley confesses, ‘I have often felt guilty...about admitting that I cannot find God where others tell me he is....’ He has strong convictions but he doesn’t claim to have God ‘sorted’. Instead, he describes a ‘hidden’ God whose truth ’nestles in ambiguity, darkness and painful contradiction’, a God whom we can never call ‘ours’ because God cannot be possessed.
But Oakley’s God is more than spirit and mystery. This a God who can be known in flesh and blood, in poetry and prose and in ‘a variety of reflective ways’. The Bible with its ‘views, experiences, beliefs and prayers,’ is ‘the best example of a collage of God that we have’. Like a beloved companion, it offers us ‘something of God’ – a God whom we, even we with our ‘makeshift lives’ can know in a ‘dialogue of trustful exchange’. A God to be known and followed in Jesus.
It’s this God whom I want to follow in 2020.