Of course just because a man spends his life putting up pictures that look like they’ve been drawn by a 10yr old boy on a blog it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t occasionally think about other things, things like life and death, faith and God.
The other day I bought an old battered copy of ‘Letters to Young Churches‘ from the War on Want shop up Botanic Avenue. Reading it in bed (or trying to read it in bed) I came across a sentence that seemed to sum up in a nutshell why I struggle with belief in a good God and why arguments, sermons and books such as you might find in a good tight evangelical bookshop don’t really help you belief, especially arguments and clever dick theological jousting. Because at the end of the day you can’t make yourself truly believe something, or even more critically you can’t make yourself love something if you don’t.
In the introduction to Romans from Letters to a Young Church J.B. Phillips writes:-
‘If we are prepared to grant the absolute Moral Perfection of God, eternally aflame with positive Goodness, Truth and Beauty, we can perhaps understand that any form of sin or evil cannot approach God without instant dissolution.’
That’s the problem right there isn’t it?
Only if we are prepared to grant absolute moral perfection to God can we even begin to work with the ideas/concepts/ realities like sin or even begin to make sense of God or Christianity or why Jesus was crucified according to Christian belief.
Belief in a good and holy God is right at the centre of everything about it but it requires us to make a leap of faith right at the start, to grant to God things which we mightn’t naturally see or be inclined to believe for whatever reason.
A person might say:-
‘So you want me to believe in a good God despite all the decay and death, suffering and pain I see in the world day in, day out on the news in the cancer ward?Perhaps I can hypothetically play along and see where you are trying to take me but I’m not sure my heart can truly believe it…’
And as I’ve journeyed along life that jump of faith of always believing that God is eternally aflame with perfect Goodness, Beauty or Truth seems harder and harder to make.
Yesterday I noticed that the old iron mantle piece in my dining room had the possibility of being used as a bookshelf. So I decided to convert it into a bookshelf of sorts. But not before I had checked that it was sturdy enough to carry the weight of books.
I examined it, pressed my weight on it, investigated it from the side and finally convinced myself that it wouldn’t collapse and provoke the ire of my landlord by breaking it through my being stupid.
You could say I took a step of faith and was prepared to believe that it would support the weight of my books, but not before I had tested it and seen that it was good. It was tried and not found wanting.
But what about God?
Am I prepared to let him support my weight, to trust him?
Well, first up I can’t even see God like I can see or touch my shelf. If I wanted I could get up right now and touch the shelf.
If I wanted to touch God what would I have to do?
Read my Bible?
Try to read this book (or series of books) with no pictures that is a thousands of years old and apply it to here to life in Lisburn?
Pray? Talk to God with faith that there is a God there and not that I am just really talking to myself?
Go to church this morning and stand with a group of mostly elderly people going through the rituals of singing hymns, these 4-lined verses accompanied with a pipe organ and a tune from a different century.Where is God in all that?
I’m sick of scraping for morsels of comfort and never want to pretend otherwise.
Am I prepared to grant God absolute moral perfection and beauty,truth and love?
All my life I’ve been told that God is good, either through the whole church experience growing up as a child and teenager, then as I worked or volunteered for various churches as an adult.
Yet where my mantle piece book shelf is real and tangible, something I can feel and experience, something that measures with reality all to often there is nothing with God from my experience. I want to be careful what I air here in public, but especially where I am in life at the moment (if you know what I mean)
It feels like the equivalent of setting your books on a shelf that isn’t there,
or on an imaginary bookshelf that you are required by faith to believe is there.
If it was Bible speak it would say something like you are extra blessed because even though there was no book shelf there for you to see you took the step off faith to put your books on it you’ll be extra blessed.
Just like Jesus telling Thomas that those who have not seen but believe are blessed.
A few years ago I wrote a song and recorded it.
It started off imagining roles reversed in the Garden of Eden, with God hiding in the bushes from me instead of Adam and Eve hiding from God after the fall. In my head I’m calling out ‘God!’ but He just hides away.
Then I imagined the Garden of Gethsemane, with Jesus just before the crucifixion having the worst time ever and asking his best friends to pray for him.
They fall asleep from fatigue and Jesus comes back to find them asleep and is hurt that they didn’t stay awake.
Again I feel like the roles have reversed, that Jesus has fallen asleep on me. For years I feel like I’ve been in some type of dark garden for years having a bad time, and Jesus is just sleeping.
And all I can think of saying (which was the chorus of the song)
‘Would you do unto others, what you’d have them do to you?
Would you do unto others, what you’d have them do to you?
I thought you’d understand what I’m going through –
How did you feel when they went to sleep on you?’
To put it another way once again, it feels like you’re having a real shitty day so you’re tired and go to bed with all the frustrated stuff bottled up.
Your other half asks you ‘What’s up?’ and so you stumble along trying to find the right words to describe why it was a bad day, and you’re almost got to that point and the words are starting to come out as you’d like them, but just as they are you look over and you see your other half’s eye’s heavy with sleep and you know that they’re not listening
But much as you might be hurt by your other half, deep down you love them and know that they’ve been working hard all day and that you can hold them and they can hold you, that they’re just really tired, broken and human. Most nights they are the model of patience and do listen to you, so you’re OK.
What about God though?You might be able to argue that he is good and cares, that he is always alert and watches over us as it says in Psalm 121 but you can’t make yourself truly believe it or go on faking stuff, just because you’re afraid of eternal damnation and the pits of Hell.
God just seems distant and sleepy, for years on end, silent when you pour your heart out, invisible and quiet and without the excuse of tiredness.