Faith in a Bad World

The apostles said to Jesus, “Make our faith greater.”

people still ask  ‘Why did God let this happen to me’  – and when they do it’s never the right time to give the answer.

You see, the fact that people don’t read their bibles any more so don’t know that bad bits – and only say grown up versions of  ‘God bless mummy and daddy prayers’  and don’t attend church except for special one-off events,  and don’t really think about God very often except to wonder what happens to them when they die, doesn’t stop people crying out ‘Why did God let this happen to me’    when something goes’ wrong.   And they are suprised that they don’t have the answer!!

This is not new.  Almost three thousand years ago the person who wrote the psalms said  ‘why do the wicked prosper’ and today’s psalm is trying to answer that same question  do not fret at those who make evil plots. Calm your anger and forget your rage;

and Jeremiah – the prophet of doom – who wrote the first reading is at the end of his tether : How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

He gets the same answer as the psalm …

‘Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.’

By the time of Jesus, even the apostles, the people who lived and walked and eat and listened to Jesus every day still ask : Make our faith greater’  or the traditional words ‘ Lord, increase our faith’  and Jesus – somewhat exasperated says :  “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you.

and let’s be honest – a mustard seed is a very small thing.

So what is faith?  and how do we have more of it.

Well – let me tell you first of all what it is not – and then, at the end of the sermon, I will have a go at telling you what faith is and how we can all have more of it.

What it is not,  is magic or an insurance policy against bad things happening to us.  Bad things happened to Jeremiah and to all the prophets, bad things happened to the People of Israel, bad things happed to St Paul and to the apostles, bad things have happed to Christians over the centuries and still happen to them today, and of course bad things happened to Jesus.  So if any one of us thinks that having faith will somehow protect us from bad things happening to us then we need to read a different bible and find a different faith. It’s not like that.

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

And the reason bad things happen to Christians is because that’s the way God made the world to be.  Let me explain.

God made this world in such a way that it is alive and growing and constantly changing – because the alternative – a beautiful but dead universe –  is unthinkable. 

In God’s power,  I guess, God could, have created a world where nothing ever changes. 

A world where trees are always in full bloom, a world where the sun always shines, a world where people and animals live for ever and never have any pain.   …  imagine that dream paradise.   The trees are laden with apples, but you never eat them – because you are never hungry.  You don’t need food to make you grow, because nothing in you is growing. 

And if you were to take that apple from the tree, the tree will never grow another one – the apple is just a decoration.   So imagine a place where we all live for ever. ….. never changing, never aging –    no children, no new people to talk to, no risks, no new ideas to try out, no new civilisation – we would be still walking around in the nude in a garden of Eden – eternally happy but at what cost.  

We may think we long for a world where bad things never happen, but the only world where that can be is a world where nothing happens,  and that looks more like eternal Hell than paradise.

But in God’s wisdom – God has given us a world in which there are seasons – days when the sun shines and nights when it is cold and dark.  God has given us a world in which we feel hungry and eat plants and fruit and even the fish of the sea and animals of the field.  God has given us a world in which trees live and regenerate year by year to produce new fruit in an everlasting cycle of good things.  God has given us a world in which fish and animals reproduce abundantly, and, yes, God has given us a world in which we too may reproduce and have children and loving and sexual relationships …

but the price of this kind of living, and growing, and loving in an ever-creating world is death… The apple on the tree has to grow so much that eventually it falls off the tree to the ground and rots and dies.

If we are going to have children and future generations in this world then the older generations must give way and return to the earth.  And if we are going to be alive with new ideas, with art and music and science and skill – with all the knowledge and wonders and creativity that human beings have created over their short existence on this planet then we are going to have bad art and music and science and knowledge along side the good – we are going to have the freedom to experiment with what is good and what is bad side by side.  The brain that created the bicycle also created the armoured tank. 

When God said of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that on the day Adam and Eve eat of it they shall surely die –  God was not threatening them with a dreadful punishment, God was warning them that the knowledge of Good and evil necessarily brings death with it … there is no other way.

But of course that’s not what really people mean when they say : Why did God let this happen to me’ –  They don’t really mean ‘why did God let this happen’  …………. we all know why life and death has to happen, we know that all things live and die, procreate and pass on their knowledge. … to all things there is a season …   They know that cells in our bodies have to change, as we grow up through childhood, adolescence and on into adult hood and old age and death – They don’t mean ‘why did God let this happen …….     to other people’  they mean ‘ why did God let this happen to  .. Me? ‘

We don’t want the great cycle of life and death and creation to stop, we merely want to be able to play a magic card so that it doesn’t happen to us  …..   the faith card.

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

But that is not what faith is.

And that is not who God is … 

So if you are looking for a faith which is a magic card or an insurance policy –  or if you are looking for a God who will step into creation to stop bad things happening to some individuals – you and your friends –  but not to others, then you need to find a different church, and in my opinion, a different religion.

Why did God let this happen to me?’   because God lets everything happen to everyone and we are all no different to everyone else – and no we can’t choose which of those ‘everythings’ we will have to deal with.  As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel we are all of us just ordinary servants in this life – even if we long to be Gods.

So then what is faith?

Two answers. ..

First –   faith is believing that God has done something 

and secondly   …  faith is believing that God will do something – and we need to tackle these two in the wrong order.

But note that faith is not believing that God exists.  The Devil believes that God exists. 

Faith is believing that there is an answer to Jeremiah’s cry ‘How long, Lord, must I call for help’

….  that God has done   and that God will do.

So – beginning with the second one first  – faith is believing that God will do something.  

Faith is believing on the one hand that the great plan of creation God has crafted is never wasteful but is eternally eco-friendly in the greatest possible sense – more than we can imagine.  That God is wise, intentional and totally capable –  and that means that nothing that ever was, is or shall be is ever disposible or without value.  Every sparrow in the sky, every leaf on the tree and of course every human life that ever has been not only has a place in God’s heart, but has an eternal place in God’s heart and therefore has an eternal past, present and future.   We don’t know what that looks like, we cannot imagine it, but we have faith.

the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false.  Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

Firstly – lest we are tempted to think that this world has got so far out of hand, so evil, so terrible, that there are so many more bad things than good things – that the Devil has conquered, God came to earth to show us that nothing can ever be so bad that God cannot or will not save it.

No pain, no injustice, no betrayal, no death – not even the ultimate evil of trying to kill God – is enough to kill God.   The Christian faith believes there will be victory because Jesus was victorious ….

And here is my final point ….   that it’s not about size…..   faith can be as small as a mustard seed whatever that means – for it to be real.  Faith is not measured in bigness or smallness – it is not measured even in certainty or doubt – it is merely measured simply by being there – a grain of hope, a childlike trust, a belief that whatever happens God saves, because God is God.