Thinking Anew: A reminder of how small and vulnerable we are
God is ever present, even at the darkest of times
There was a time when churchmen refused to listen to people such as Galileo or the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, (baptised in St Audoen’s church in Dublin’s Cornmarket) who in1654 mistakenly calculated that the creation of the world occurred in 4004 BC. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / IRISH TIMES
According to St Clement of Alexandria the world is the first Bible that God made for the instruction of man, a fitting introduction to tomorrow’s liturgy which has at its theme Creation.
The Old Testament reading is from the Book Genesis which means “beginning” and at first glance is an account of the creation of the material world, of humankind and everything that exists. However, the Bible was never intended to explain the science of creation; that is the job of scientists who discover new and amazing things every day. There was a time when churchmen refused to listen to people such as Galileo or the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, (baptised in St Audoen’s church in Dublin’s Cornmarket) who in1654 mistakenly calculated that the creation of the world occurred in 4004 BC. In time churchmen were forced to accept their limitations.
While the Bible acknowledges God as “the creator of heaven and earth” it is primarily focused on God’s interaction with people and their relationships with him over centuries. Life’s everyday experiences led them to an awareness of and belief in the reality of God but they often struggled with their faith and asked questions – an essential part of any faith journey. Individuals held up to us as models could disappoint: Elijah disillusioned and wanting to give up; the psalmist wondering if God exists; Job demanding an explanation for his suffering; the adulterous David grieving for his son.
As we contemplate the vastness and power of God’s creation tomorrow’s gospel reminds us of how small and vulnerable we are: the disciples caught out in a boat by a sudden storm are terrified: “A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’.” Things were out of their control and in desperation they turn to their Lord for help. This is a regular feature of the gospel narrative – people turning to Jesus in moments of desperation when everything and everyone else has failed – and being reassured.
Life brings challenges, often unexpected, to everyone – health issues, life changing accidents, the loss of a child or a partner – our lives can be changed forever in a single moment. Friends and family can be a huge support but there always remains that inner hurt and pain, that private space, which no one else can know or understand and where, in the aloneness and the silence, faith is tested. Does God exist and if so, does he care? How could little me possibly matter to a God they call the creator?
In Job and the Mystery of Suffering Fr Richard Rohr suggests that God is not detached from what goes on in our lives but engages with us in ways we may not understand:
“We live in a finite world where everything is dying, shedding its strength. This is hard to accept, and all our lives we look for exceptions to it. We look for something strong, undying, infinite. Religion tells us that something is God. Great, we say, we’ll attach ourselves to this strong God. Then this God comes along and says, “Even I suffer. Even I participate in the finiteness of this world.” The enfleshment and suffering of Jesus is saying that God is not apart from the trials of humanity. God is not aloof. God is not a mere spectator. God is not merely tolerating or even healing all human suffering. Rather, God is participating with us – in all of it – the good and the bad.”
As a military chaplain in the first World War, Bishop Timothy Rees experienced first-hand the suffering and death inflicted on millions during that awful war. But for him God was ever present even in the darkest of those times in a way that mattered. One of his hymns explains: “And when human hearts are breaking/ under sorrow’s iron rod/ then they find that self-same aching/ deep within the heart of God.” God, for him, was no spectator.