OPPORTUNITIES IN ADVERSITY

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I had a colleague who was asked about God. I cannot remember quite what the question was, but it had something to do with God being all knowing or all powerful. There are clever words for these qualities of God. All knowing is omniscient and all powerful is omnipotent. My colleagues rather terse answer was ‘I have problems with omnis’.  I kind of agree.

I like knowledge and the word omniscient comes from science which means knowledge. Originally knowledge was both understanding the meaning of life through philosophy along with understanding the world around with examination of nature. For God to be all knowing means he perceives all of this. But I don’t know if this helps me. It can turn God into a sort of encyclopaedia who is rather static and unapproachable. Or it might turn him into a spy who knows all about me, especially the dark corners. This does not help me, it might be scary too.

I don’t mean these things are not true. In fact people writing abut God have given a lot of attention to these more abstract aspects of who he is. In the early centuries of the Christian era the Christian thinkers wanted to speak on a par with the other great thinkers of their time. Most of these came from a Greek philosophical background. This led to some very abstract ideas and talk of such things as omnis. It also took on board Greek ideas such as a low view of living in this world as we are creatures of flesh and passions. There was a desire for what were considered higher things and becoming somewhat other worldly.

The Christian Faith is in fact very grounded in this world. St. Paul spoke of this being to some people as a scandal, a stumbling block. It kept them from what God was seeking to display. Jesus was the divine living as a human life. He was the divine who suffered with being misunderstood, betrayed and dying. To the Greek this was outrageous as the divine was beyond such things. To the people who met Jesus they discovered the divine present with them. The divine was not a thing or idea but a person who could be related to. Whether God was was all knowing was a moot point. The joy was that he knew them and they could then know something divine themselves.

I write this in the context of our present coronavirus crisis. Thinking about God often starts with our troubles. C. S. Lewis said God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our devotions and shouts at us in our pain. The present experiences of many people in the world being infected and some dying are very worrying. The lack of medicine to cure it is fearful. The actions of self isolation are important but are perhaps only staving off a future encounter.

If in our troubles we ask ‘where is God?’ are we looking for an answer given in words. I think a lot of our searching for God can go like this. Perhaps we can ask another question which is ‘how is Jesus here?’. I don’t first of all mean ‘what would Jesus do?’ Which has been a popular question in recent years. I think that owes more to a reliance on our own actions which can lead to frustration and guilt.

Jesus is here as the one who seeks our welfare even if we are suffering? So we might contact the disease but there is still much to know of the divine in it. Jesus is here with the people that surround us and so it is about solidarity not isolation. I am aware we may have to withdraw from society but we can still talk and see each other with Skype and WhatsApp messaging. We may also want to be in communication with others who are in isolation. Jesus was the person who drew all people to himself. How does this change our view of our suburban neighbours? There are people to meet immediately around us. This crisis is an opportunity, even an excuse to meet people who may be very alone.

I think the realities of life are where God is asking us to live. If we feel bemused or abandoned he is still here. Our invitation is to see the very vibrant way that Jesus lived in this world and to know that as we follow him the situation opens up, possibilities take place. It is not first of all doing something as Jesus would but knowing life in a fresh way that is divine. In this way we can life here. If there are the puzzles that remain; well we are not being asked to be omniscient.

Best wishes

Alan Keeler