Monday, 14 March 2011

You Hate Nothing That You Have Made

The events of the past few days have literally and figuratively shaken our world. We are in an age where we, even since the days of the last great Tsunami in 2004, can watch a disaster unfold - moment by moment, inch by inch. I doubt that any of us will forget watching an unremitting, unstoppable wall of blackened filthy water consume all things in its path. Modern technology can put us in the middle of a catastrophe in a way that we have never experienced, though allowing us the opportunity then to turn off or log off. 

As Christians, we are in our season of Lent. This is, I think, a unique season where we have a consistent Collect prayer throughout. It is prayed in addition to the collects for the day on the various Sundays, but it remains the spiritual heartbeat in the Church of England liturgical Lent. Its words are as follow:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It is a beautiful prayer, perhaps laden with the uncomfortable language of the Middle Ages, but none the less potent. I was struck last week by the tragic event that unfolded in Japan, while set against the backdrop of this prayer that forms another of my own focuses. The notion that God hates nothing that God has made is somehow benign in 'normal' time, but takes on an entirely different character in the wake of the earthquake whose aftershocks still shake as I write this. 

I was asked twice, quite reasonably, on Friday how God could allow such a thing to happen and for so many countless (and as yet uncounted) thousands to lose their lives. I have prayed about this at times in my own life, and in those times where our world seemed to be struck by yet another celestial thunderbolt. It became clear to me that God no more lets this happen to a living planet than I, as a parent, let my children fall and hurt themselves - yet it happens. Our planet is alive - it was made that way. For its life and ours, there needs to be certain 'behaviours' that our Earth experiences. It needs to move through space and it needs to 'breathe'. For these to not happen would mean that we could not and would not exist. These things I understand. These behaviours are the means by which our world is beautiful, that for many of us, a spring day can give way to a beautiful summer and a fruitful autumn. If Earth were a turgid rock, frozen and still, we would not be and we would be no more than a larger version of our moon - and yes, endlessly safe. Such a living planet demands all the shades of colour that life imply - the good and the bad. 

I have no doubt at all that our loving God grieves every lost life in every natural disaster. I grieve the injuries that my children sustain but I cannot immobilise them into an inert and eternally safe environment. I would kill them in one way or another by wanting to keep them safe from any harm or the costs of living life fully. I pray for the people of Japan as well as those people in the places where life is thrown into chaos by the life our planet needs to live. what I cannot do, though, is blame God. God is not to blame, although I understand the need to wave our fists at heaven at times. In my frailty as a human being, if I can love my children enough and be a source of comfort when they feel pain, I have such hope that in the face of a global injury where so many have lost their lives and families are left in tatters, that God can be a source of light and hope for us all as he grieves with us. God hates nothing that God has made, and with such love, everything is not lost. 

The essence of my sermon preached yesterday (as distinct from the one that I had prepared and didn't preach)


  1. The problem of suffering is always a difficult one to deal with. I like the way you've put this and this way of thinking about life and God seems to make a lot of sense to me.

    It does raise a couple of questions as well though. Most Christians believe that after they die they will either:
    a) Die and go to heaven or
    b) Be resurrected to a new earth (less traditional, but in my opinion more Biblical)

    Either way though, do you see a place for this kind of suffering in eternity? If not, will we all just stagnate in the interminable "safeness" of it all? Or if it's possible to be safe and to flourish in eternity, then why not here? Or does our present fallen nature somehow make suffering a prerequisite for growth?

    Do you have any thoughts on any of this...?

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the last paragraph.
    However, the reason our planet has earthquakes is the result of the entrance of corruption into the once-perfect Creation when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.
    The original earth had only one land-mass and therefore no tectonic plates. During the world-wide flood the land-mass was broken up and the tectonic plates were formed, moving the still-pliable newly-laid sedimentary layers swiftly into new positions, causing great mountains to rise up, etc. These plates are still moving and pressure-points inevitably build up and cause earthquakes when the energy in them is released.
    The escalation in the frequency and power of earthquakes in modern times is to be expected if we believe what Jesus himself said would be one of the signs of the end-times.

  3. As I listened to your sermon yesterday it put into perspective my own grieving. My Father-in-law had died on the 10th, but what about all those who died in Japan a lot will have had no one to individually think of them with the families and communities wiped out. Whatever their faith (or if they have no faith at all) may their God be with them.

  4. Thanks, David. A good thoughtful post!



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