Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Follow me and be persecuted

Nick over at nickhereandnow is a very good blogger. An intelligent writer who produces concise posts that are often thought-provoking. He recently covered the case of a woman who'd had a liposuction operation that had gone terribly wrong with the final result that she died, aged 42. Nick covered the topic well and included this sentence: This dreadful saga of incompetence and misfortune certainly undermines belief in some benign creator watching over us and keeping us from harm.

In my comment I asked Nick which religion he was talking about. In his reply he said: Certainly that's the understanding of most common folk, who consequently ask why so many disasters are allowed to happen....

If a blogger less moderate or wise had said that it wouldn't have worried me but the fact that Nick, who is clearly of an independent and liberal mind, was under the impression that God keeps us from harm, is of concern.

Jesus himself said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross.' (Matthew 16:24) The cross of Christ led to torture and death; for us to take up our cross doesn't sound like a promise of good times ahead.

I have often thought that God made a big mistake with his PR campaign. 'Follow me and you might get persecuted or killed' isn't the sort of slogan to attract followers. On the other hand, 'follow me and nothing bad will ever happen to you again' is a definite winner in my book.

But then again he is a god of justice so surely it would only be fair, if he promised us a good life, for him to expect something in return? Like, 'I'll look after you as long as you never do, think or say anything bad ever again.'

If those were his words I'd be screwed from the moment I got out of bed in the morning. Or even before that. My name would have been taken off the heavenly roll call before the ink had time to dry.

Thankfully, that's not what he says. He says, 'come as you are.' It's as simple as that. Shit happens and it happens to everyone. What Jesus did promise was to be with us always, to help us through the trials we all have to face in life.

Nick, in response to my comments, also wrote: I'm not sure that someone in a refugee camp or being tortured would get that much reassurance from the knowledge that Jesus is with them, but maybe they would see it differently....

I think the answer to that is that, yes, they would see it differently. I've never been tortured (unless you count having to watch Wales being crushed by England in rugby - you see, my tutor on my writing course told me off for doing that - she said 'you can't resist putting in a joke, can you? You build up the tension and then wallop, it's ruined!) but I've been through trials in my life and I've known the love and support of God through the bad times. It's not something that can be explained but it's real.

Corrie ten boom, a Dutch Christian who was in a concentration camp during the war, and saw her sister die there, has written books about her experiences. One of the stories she tells that I like best is about being a child anticipating a train journey. Her father wouldn't give her the money until the very last moment even though she asked him for it in advance. But he always gave it to her at just the right time. I'm hoping that if I ever face torture for my faith that God will give me the courage and strength I need. If I consider it now I suspect I would only have to have my feet tickled and I'd renounce everything but I truly hope that having God with me would make the difference if ever it came to that.

Which is slightly off the point that I started from. And I'm sure there was more I wanted to say about God being benign, yes, but also an angry God who hates injustice and evil. Jesus demonstrated the righteous anger of God when he overturned the traders' tables in the temple as they were obstructing the way of ordinary people who just wanted to get in to the temple to worship God.

Now George is nagging for a walkie so I'll think about this post while in the woods and see if I need to amend or add anything.


Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Well said, Liz. Please don't change anything: every time I have second guessed a sermon, I have screwed it up.

You've probably heard the saying/joke that "in the beginning God created us and we have been repaying the compliment ever since."

I think that Albert Schweitzer rather confirmed that in his theological work, The Quest of the Historical Jesus . We humans tend to picture God/Jesus/Moses/Mohammad in the light of our own lives and cultures and expectations.

Personally, I believe that another name for God is "Love". I see God as just and compassionate and unconditionally loving. I find in the suffering of Christ at least a wee understanding of my own pain as a human being.

I am very aware that not everyone believes the way I do; through years of pastoring and several thousand sermons I have also come to realize that it requires experience and spiritual growth for one to change his/her view of God and, yes, life.

There was a woman who I pastored for over 11 years who had grown up in a very fundamentalist cult whose teachings were that God is angry, judgmental, and vindictive. After 10 of the 11 years I was her pastor, she said to me as she left a worship service, "Rev. Nick, there is something about the services here that I don't understand. I am supposed leave church feeling convicted of my sins and I leaving here feeling forgiven and even good about myself."

I understood her frame of reference; and appreciated her compliment.

Blessings, Liz!

Leslie: said...

Powerful post, Liz. Just the other day, I was trying to explain my faith to Lorne, who happens to believe that when you die it's just simply all over. It breaks my heart to think he'll never experience the glory of God. But I think I might just copy your post and let him have a read.

nick said...

Ooer, I'm in the hot seat all of a sudden! This is a very complex debate and one I have difficulty with as I've never believed in God or a supreme being to begin with. What I don't understand is how, if God created the world, he would want to create so much pain and suffering as part of it. Wouldn't he want to create a perfect world where everyone was happy and fulfilled? Dictators who cause pain and suffering are widely condemned, nobody tries to justify the suffering.

All I can say is that I do believe in some sort of benign force out there, as I have escaped death any number of times and I constantly benefit from lucky opportunities and circumstances. But I don't see that benign force as part of any formal religious doctrine.

jams o donnell said...

Superb post Liz. It certainly gives even an atheist like me food for thought.

NitWit1 said...

I guess we all wish to avoid the fate of Job, or worse.

I rely on the verse, I will not be given more than I can endure.

And often I am not "enduring" anything but beauty and peace.

CherryPie said...

This is such a beautiful post, it gets to the truth of the matter and I am sure it will make some people think xx

jmb said...

Not a compelling message was it, Liz but somehow it did get a following and grew and grew.

But it is difficult for Christians to maintain their faith in a world where so much suffering goes on, especially of innocents. We would stop it we could, why doesn't God?

One day we will know the truth, in the meantime we just put one foot after the other and our trust in Him.

Jay said...

Ah yes ... it is a conundrum, isn't it? And the problem is that we look at God through mortal and fallible eyes. How can we truly understand His nature and His intentions? We are doomed to failure.

Corrie Ten Boom had some interesting things to say. One of them was that she was grateful for the fact that her cell was crawling with fleas. She said that if it weren't for the fleas, she and her sister would have been abused on a regular basis by the guards, as others were. However, the fleas always prevented the guards from staying longer than was absolutely necessary.

Did God send the fleas? To a non-Christian, would the fleas have seemed like insult added to injury, yet one more burden to bear? Was Corrie Ten Boom able to bear them because God was with her?

Only you can decided.

Berni said...

Thanks for posting this. Also I think the verse in Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." is misunderstood. All things will work out for good ultimately but not necessarily in one's time on earth. I don't think God allows things like the holocaust I think Satan had everything to do with that. There is a war in the heavenlies and has been since before time began and sometimes God doesn't win the battle but He knows and he has told us He will win the war. There is a passage in the Old Testament I think in Deuteronomy or Joshua I can't find it right now that says that God was angry with a city because He needed them to help in the battle.

I wonder how many battles we Christians don't join Him in and therefore bad things happen.
Guilty as charged.

Puss-in-Boots said...

What a great post and answers, Liz. I don't know enough to enter this debate, but what I will say is that I think blogging is a wonderful forum to bring something like this up and to read how different people think. Well said, all.

James Higham said...

This dreadful saga of incompetence and misfortune certainly undermines belief in some benign creator watching over us and keeping us from harm.

Isn't it astounding how readily people like that [and am I alone in being far from impressed by that blogger?] leap to blaming G-d for any micro-disaster [in terms of population numbers, not in terms of grief]?

Yet all the good things are never ascribed to the doing of G-d.

nick said...

James: I never blame God for any micro-disaster - because I don't believe in God. I blame the human beings who caused the disaster.

People like that? Far from impressed? Ah well, you can't please all the people all of the time....

Rose said...

This is the question that has plagued believers and non-believers alike for centuries. Theologians and philosphers have tried to explain it, but I've never read an explanation as clear and moving as this, Liz.

I don't want to offend anyone, but I think the problem is when people say "It's God's will" or everything is according to "God's plan." If you believe in that, then you also have to believe that tragedies are a part of his plan. On the other hand, if you believe in free will, as I do, you can see that God allows us to make our own choices, and is there to comfort and support us when things go wrong.

nick said...

Rose, thank you, that must be where my assumption comes from, "It's God's will" or "It's God's plan". Of course I know that like many Biblical quotations, it's wide open to interpretation.

Liz said...

Thank you all for your comments. I will respond more fully later but I'm off to help in the community cafe today.

Have a good day, y'all!

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