Thinking Anew – Taking stock of what God means to us
The sun over the Sinai Peninsula. Photograph: iStock
‘I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” CS Lewis here explains what belief in God should mean. Everything is seen differently: not just the safe “religious” things, but everything – what’s going on in our relationships, our careers, our politics and our other interests and responsibilities.
Lent provides an opportunity to take stock of what God means to us in our ordinary everyday life.
That is important because too many of us treat God as nothing more than a 999 emergency service and are disappointed when something happens and there seems to be no response.
Everyone experiences low moments when life seems to lack purpose or direction and God does not seem to be doing much about it, a feeling expressed in these opening words of a prayer: “Help us O God at those times when the world seems empty of your presence and no word comes to reassure our hearts.”
The author of tomorrow’s psalm knows that feeling: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
The Old Testament reading addresses the same situation but from a different perspective, suggesting that God is aware of our needs and responds with generosity: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Note there is no charge: God’s gifts are free for his faithful people, as we are reminded in St Luke’s Gospel where we are told not to be anxious about material things: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink . . . seek his kingdom and all these things will be given to you as well.”
This is not an easy option in a society where what we eat, drink and wear seems to be the priority.
But the invitation stands, and our first response must be to recognise that we cannot live the Christian life in our own strength.
Bishop John Pritchard in his book Living Faithfully has advice to offer that develops what CS Lewis was talking about: “The characteristic stance of disciples is that they have their lives turned towards God as a consistent point of reference. At any time of the day the disciple is able to remember the presence of God, without needing to be unduly pious . . . Looking in the direction of God for a moment is a timely action whenever we do it. It puts things in perspective, it reminds us whose we are and whom we serve, and it opens us to grace.
“But even more than this intentional looking towards God, having our lives turned in his direction, is an attitude of life . . . To help us live our lives facing God we have the gift of scripture, sacrament, prayer and the fellowship of the church. These are the four legs of a sturdy table where we can sit and eat. We ignore this feast at our peril because this relationship with God is like any relationship – it doesn’t flourish on nice thoughts and good intentions; it needs time, love and commitment.”
This may seem like a counsel of perfection, but the spiritual life is never easy. And the effort is worth it because, ultimately, it is the only way to find meaning and purpose in life outside and beyond ourselves.
Albert Einstein, not known for his religious views, was aware of that when he wrote: “What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”