Thinkinganew: Optimism is not faith

Fear for the future with all its uncertainties is best left in the hands of the God

Gusty day on    the Great South Wall, Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Gusty day on the Great South Wall, Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

A question on the minds of people recently has been about when will life get back to normal?

That is understandable given the level of disruption and anxiety we have endured these past 12 months. However, there is no such thing as normal in the sense that we will one day get back to where we were a year ago. Life is not like that. Perhaps the greatest heresy of our times has been to think it is normal to live in a pain-free, stress-free zone in comfort and security.

The shock and dislocation of this past year has shown this to be a fallacy by exposing our vulnerability and confronting us with the brutal fact that sickness and accident can shatter our lives at any time.

This realisation can make us bitter and lead us to question God as we are reminded in these verses from Psalm 42: “My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God when shall I come to appear before the presence of God? My tears have been my meat day and night while they daily say unto me, where is now thy God?”

Reflecting on these words the English theologian Canon Angela Tilby said: “The cries from the depths in that psalm echo the cries of so many who have faced challenge and loss this past year – those who have lost health, loved ones, income, a future . . , The psalm shows us that there’s no use pretending to God that all is well when it isn’t. Optimism is not faith, but we’re sometimes tempted to think it is, which is why loss and grief can knock the stuffing out of us and cause us to doubt any faith we may have in God. Sometimes we just have to accept the pain of lamentation and the perplexity that goes with it.”

In tomorrow’s readings two important issues come together: life’s uncertainties and the belief that God will see us through. The Old Testament reading is from the Book of Jeremiah, a prophet whose people were facing exile and the loss of everything they treasured. But Jeremiah assures them that God will restore them and give them a new and better future: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

He underscores his own trust in God and the future by investing in a plot of land in what is already an occupied country. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in representing the doubts and fears of people struggling with difficulties and wondering what God is doing to help. We see this in the psalms 51 and 139 suggested for tomorrow. The writers know their vulnerability and accept that their only hope is the goodness and generosity of God: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness; according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences ”. In tomorrow’s gospel reading (St John’s chapter 12) Jesus stands with us in our fears for the future. The cross is imminent, and he is fearful of the physical and spiritual anguish ahead of him. So in this moment of crisis he prays: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say –“Father, save me from this hour“? But he then continues: “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Those words tell us that fear for the future with all its uncertainties is best left in the hands of the God who will never leave us unsupported. St Patrick whose life we celebrated on Wednesday knew this: “God beneath you, God in front of you, God behind you, God above you, God within you.” GORDON LINNEY

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