IS GOD UP TO SCRATCH?

FAITH IN FOCUS: IS GOD UP TO SCRATCH?

You have to laugh at the woman who prayed to St Anthony whenever she lost anything. She couldn’t find her car keys and kept asking St Anthony for his help, becoming more and more frustrated while they were still missing. She began to get annoyed with St Anthony until she eventually found the keys and then said to him, ‘never mind. I’ve found them now!’

They do say that the best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. There’s nothing wrong with having plans, of course, but sometimes God has a very different knowledge of how our life is going to turn out. God doesn’t think like us and his ways are vastly different from ours. Isaiah tells us that the gap between our way of thinking and God’s is greater than the gap between heaven and earth. And Jesus puts the finishing touch to this by his story of a landowner who paid everyone the same wage no matter how many hours a day they had worked. Why should people be jealous just because God is generous?

One of the hardest things for many Christians to understand is that no matter how much we try, we never even come close to knowing how God works. What seems fair to us, God ignores. What seems to be the obvious choice is overlooked, what appears to be the only solution is bypassed by God.

This side to God’s character is known as his transcendence. It’s the ‘otherness’ of God, the fact that God is unfathomable, that we can’t ever capture his vital statistics (or even hers if we’re being honest).

When we stop trying to think that we can control things in this world by enlisting God on our side, then we begin to learn. Once we accept how little we know about God’s ways then we’re really on the road to approaching him. Once we reach the point where we simply invite God into our lives and ask him to act for the good, with no conditions attached, then we have a chance of allowing the Spirit to make us holy. God is greater than anything we can imagine or conjure up, and once we grasp this then as well as some mystifying events in our lives there are also a few very pleasant surprises along the way.

 

DOUBLE STANDARDS

FAITH IN FOCUS: DOUBLE STANDARDS

Most people know that the way you become a Christian is to be baptised. Perhaps what they don’t realise is that one of the principal effects of baptism is forgiveness. In fact, each time we recite the Creed we point to this by saying,’We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins’.

Forgiveness is more than one person saying ‘it’s OK; it doesn’t matter’ to the person who has offended them. Forgiveness is about completely accepting the person and holding nothing at all against them.

This is too difficult for some. The best they can come up with is a grudging remission: ‘I’m not going to take this any further, but count yourself lucky.’ This, unfortunately, is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not simply a human act. It is part of an act that God performed for us in Christ, and which we share in when we offer forgiveness. In fact, we do not offer our forgiveness to someone; we pass on God’s.

God is able to forgive because he never holds grudges. Faced with someone who is truly sorry, God knows only how to love. But the condition of forgiveness is that we must be prepared to treat others as God has treated us. And the degree to which we forgive others is the degree to which God is able to forgive us. We cannot hold the double standard of wanting God to treat us in a way that we are not prepared to treat others. Forgiving others is a precondition for being forgiven by God.

The servant in today’s gospel wanted his pound of flesh, and it was this that got his debt reinstated. How could he expect to be let off his debt if he was not prepared to extend the same kindness to others?

As our Old Testament reading puts it, ‘Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.’

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LIVE AND LET LIVE?

FAITH IN FOCUS: LIVE AND LET LIVE?

We’re treading on ice with today’s scripture readings. God tells Ezekiel that has appointing him as sentry to Israel. Ezekiel’s job is to warn people when he sees that they are behaving badly. And Jesus hands on that task to us. ‘If your brother does something wrong then go and have it out with him’, he says.

For many of us this goes against the grain. We’ve been brought up to mind our own business, to leave others to get in and out of their own mess and to keep our noses out. One of the refrains in our modern society is ‘live and let live’, and this seems at odds with what the bible asks us to do.

Of course, it all depends on our motives. When we see something that is clearly wrong we can get on our high horse, as if we are perfect, and we can enjoy launching into the person who is responsible for it. Usually we get a good deal of pleasure out of this, partly because we see something of ourselves in the person we are condemning, and having a go at them is a way of exorcising the ghost from our own hearts.

On the other hand, condoning wrongful behaviour, from wherever it comes, is not an option. We have to be sensitive to the person involved; we have to understand the circumstances they find themselves in and seek for the reasons behind their actions. But we cannot remain silent and pretend what they are doing is right.

The gospel values which we hold are public and communal, and we have to ensure that we never cease to find fresh ways of letting the world know what they are and why they are important to us. If we were on the verge of destroying ourselves by some unhelpful course of action, then we would probably be grateful in the long term for someone who didn’t just go along with what we were doing but pointed out the dangers to us. In the same way we owe it to others to warn them when we can see they are harming themselves.

The problem with live and let live is that is usually ends up as live and let die.

 

BETTER THAN LIFE ITSELF?

FAITH IN FOCUS: BETTER THAN LIFE ITSELF?

Psalm 62, used in our liturgy today, is a prayer of a person who desperately longs to know God and to feel God’s presence in their lives. In fact, without God they feel like dry, weary, waterless soil. And although they don’t always feel God close to them they sit and gaze at the sanctuary to sense God’s strength and glory.

We have so many distractions in our lives. Many of them are necessary: we have to work in order to be able to live; our lives with each other inevitably throw up problems and difficulties; and in all the process of getting and having we can end up missing the real point of why we’re here on earth. But it doesn’t matter how much we are considered successful by others, in our heart of hearts we know that we will always feel empty if we have not found a place for God in our lives.

Jeremiah says as much in our first reading. God is so important to him that he experiences a fire in his belly that he must tell people about even though he suffers ridicule. And Jesus goes even further in the gospel today. What’s the point of possessing the whole world, money, riches, status, power, if it means that you never enjoy the real purpose of life? He reminds us that the only way to enjoy life to the full is to renounce self, to put aside selfish interest, in order to follow him. In other words, if we let anything get between us and God then we become cut off from what can really satisfy our needs.

One of the lines of psalm 62 is quite extraordinary. It simply says, “Your love is better than life”. Better than life? The psalmist is saying that if our life is not centred on what is really important then it’s not worth having. If we have found God then we realise that our lives are very short indeed yet the only thing that ultimately matters is that we possess God for eternity.

The temptation is to live only half a life, to conform to what our world tells us living is really about. Yet with all its superficial glitter and gloss we know that this sort of shimmering existence can never meet our real needs and aspirations. And those who have found God’s love have no need of this tinsel. For, as the psalmist says, “Your love is better than life.” Makes you think, doesn’t it?