Today is probably a day to set some records straight. World events should challenge each and every one of us to look God straight in the eye and say ‘Why?’
“If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” they were the words carved on the walls of a concentration camp cell during WWII by a Jewish prisoner, and we would do well to take them seriously. If God caused the holocaust, or if the barbaric destruction of Ukraine is God’s will then let me say it loud and clear – God is a monster, and an eternity with a god like that would be Hell.
So if God did not cause the Holocaust or the war in Ukraine, then we need to stop saying ‘it must have been God’s will’ whenever anything bad happens to us. It might not have been God’s will at all – it might just be a bad thing that happened to us and God had nothing to do with it.
It is time to get real and to stop blaming God.
This is partially the question Jesus is asking in this morning’s reading .. why do bad things happen to people? Why do people get murdered by tyrants? Why do freak accidents happen which kill people? Did the people deserve what they got. Jesus wants to stop that way of thinking in the bud – no – people who are murdered and people who die in accidents are no worse than the rest of us – it’s just that the rest of us have had a lucky escape.
So what are we to say to those Christians who point to some verses of Scripture and say that God is in control of all world events: that nothing happens against God’s will; or to use their language, that God is sovereign?
Amos 3:6 When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?
they quote. … to which I think we just have to say ‘no’. God did not cause the air-raid sirens to blow over Mariupol, nor did God cause the russian artilliary to blow up the theatre. If God did, then God is a monster and they can keep him.
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
No –we have to say. God did not appoint Hitler, God did not appoint Vladimir Putin – and actually God did not even appoint Boris Johnson or Her Majesty the Queen. That’s just not how the world works. … and if God did appoint Hitler or Putin, then God is careless, foolish, or callous – and certainly not worth our worship.
So it is, my friends, time to be confident as adult Christians about the kind of God we believe in, and the kind of faith which inspires us, guides us and encourages us and we have to reject childish theology.
Now let me tell you than none of this is new or whacky – I don’t really do new or whacky actually. There is a sense in some Christian circles that only protestant reformation theology from the 16th Century – a sort of Calvinism light – is the real reading of the bible. I sat in a car last Monday with two very aimiable priests running parishes not a million miles away from here – and when I asked them what their Church was like they used phrases like ‘We’re a biblical church’ or ‘we’re a Spirit filled Church’ and even ‘we’re an orthodox bible believing Church’ – where the word orthodox didn’t mean Orthodox with a capital O, but meant ‘we’re a protestant reformation theology from the 16th Century’ kind of Church. I wanted to ask them what they thought St Andrew’s was? A Winnie- the – pooh kind of Church – because clearly they don’t think we’re biblical. or perhaps a Spirit empty Church? And what about the real Orthodox who have held the faith for two thousand years – are the Orthodox not actually orthodox?
You see protestant reformation theology from the 16th Century has five basic points – all humans are totally depraved and are going to Hell, only those who believe in Jesus will be saved, and because God controls everything that happens in the world then God also controls who believes in Jesus and is saved and also who does not believe and that none of us have any choice in the matter, because we cannot resist God’s will.
…. but that is just one, fairly recent, and I would say heretical version of Christianity. It is certainly not the only version of Christianity out there – and no ‘ not all Christians are the same.
There are many other much older, and personally I would say much more Biblical and Spirit filled versions of Christianity out there – and we, here at St Andrew’s are most definitely on a different track!
humans are not all totally depraved – we are the beloved creation of God made in God’s image, but we are always struggling with Good and Evil. We are not all going to Hell because Jesus has saved the whole world and everything that is in it by his glorious victory over death. No – God does not control everything that happens in the world – God has given us Free Will to choose between heaven and hell, life and death here on earth. God has placed our lives in our own rather fragile hands and 9 times out of 10 we make it worse for ourselves. … but we are learning.
And God does not leave us on our own – God is constantly by our side, guiding, empowering, comforting us by the Holy Spirit and we are all of us on a journey to become more and more like Christ every day.
It is a different version of Christianity.
But ours is not an easy track. It demands brain work, sprititual transformation and struggling mightily with Scripture. Anyone who has opened a study bible and seen the little footnote ‘Hebrew obscure’ or who has wondered why different translations of the Bible sometimes seem to say very different things, should realise that there is no plain and simple meaning of Scripture –but then I would say that is the whole point – it is the Word of God alive and active, meant to challenge us, inspire us and make us think – it is not a spiritual version of Google with all the answers for those with an internet connection.
So why then did those Galileans die, murdered by Pilate when they were saying their prayers? Why did that great tower of Siloam collapse and kill 18 people in Jerusalem? The answer is that some rulers are very evil and that tragic accidents happen …. It is not the victims’ fault and it is not God’s fault either – but it does point to one thing, and that is that we are very very far from that perfect world we all long for in our hearts – the one we pray for – what the Bible calls the restoration of all things – when God’s will really will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We are a long way from that – and so Jesus says – therefore – we must all repent. all of us …
and I have said it many times from this step. Repenting does not mean feeling bad about ourselves, grovelling on the floor and feeling wretched, repenting means completely changing the way we walk on with the rest of our lives into the future. If you want a better world – Jesus says – don’t just wait for it – repent – turn around – change the way you are completely – and go for it.
Orthodox Biblical Spirit filled Christianity – the Christianity of the Early Church, the Christianity of most of the world – our kind of Christianity – believes in Free Will and human Co-operation with God. The Blessed Virgin Mary had to say ‘yes’ for God’s plan to work. And so do we.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington