Sunday, June 30, 2013

Paul and PoE

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on 23rd June 2013 and at St Augustine’s Canterbury on 30th June 2013

In your experience,
why do you think people choose not
to believe in God?

Is it because they can’t see Him?
Because they don’t want to be told what to do?
Because Science somehow explains everything?

It’s arguably true
that the reason that most people
do not believe in God is
because “bad things happen to good people”.

Most people lose their faith in God
because they experience some excruciating agony
or witness the agony of others
and believe that they do not receive
the slightest respite from God.

They receive rather
a seemingly continuous barrage of misfortune
coupled with a divine silence.

God says nothing at all,
or at least,
 that’s how it appears.

It’s true to say that we’ve all felt that silence.

It does seem reasonable
to want to hold God to account
when an accident hurts us or someone we love
 and we don’t know why.

 The Psalmist says,
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me,
and from the words of my roaring?“

Indeed the psalms
are filled with complaints about injustice
and God’s apparent lack of interest.

“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD?
Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?”

Can there be a satisfactory answer to these complaints?


Well, many people have tried to give answers
to God’s silence at our suffering,
but they often tend to be glib
 and unsatisfactory
 especially in the light of the appalling
and relentless suffering
that people go through every day.

Every time we try and see
where God might be,
 we come back to the nature of our pain.

That’s the trouble with pain.
It’s very difficult to ignore
 if not impossible.

 Pain of any sort has a nasty tendency
not just of being deeply unpleasant
 but demanding our immediate
and undivided attention. 

When you stub your toe,
the next few minutes are usually spent
hopping around and saying a few choice words
until the pain subsides.

That’s okay when the pain goes away quickly.
 But what if it stays?


Pain is a natural response.

If we feel pain
whether it be physical, emotional, or even spiritual,
 then it is a sign that something is wrong
and needs to be put right for it to cease.

When we can put things right,
 then we feel better and life can continue. 

When we can’t,
then we’re stuck with feelings
 that we desperately seek an end to
but have no power to end them.

 This just adds pain to pain.
Insult to injury.

If we are mindful of our dependence on God,
 then we rely on Him to control the uncontrollable.

If He does not take away our pain,
 then we are tempted to reject Him
under the belief that He has rejected us.

We are tempted to cease to care about Him
because He has apparently demonstrated
that He does not really care about us.

Our suffering,
or the sight of someone else suffering
 can tempt us to see things amiss.

 Our vision narrows to the point
where nothing else matters.

 Not only can we not see the bigger picture,
 we could even deny the bigger picture even exists.

Like Job we are tempted to curse God and die.

The suffering of every single innocent person,
 of men, women and children,
so many little children,
causes us heartache to the point
 of losing our faith in God.

During his persecution,
St Paul tells us,
“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time
are not worthy to be compared
with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
St Paul reminds us to hang on to the hope of Heaven.

This is a man who has been whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked
and he sees it all as unworthy of Heaven.

If there is no Heaven,
then all the pain and misery of millions
 is purposeless, meaningless and cruel.

St Paul tells us to look upwards to Christ Himself.


One day we will stand before God.

We will stand before Him
covered in a mass of scars and wounds and marks
caused by all the sufferings of our lives,
some of our own making
and some made by Life's injustice.

 And He will look upon
our hurts and anguishes,
the times we have cried at the injustice of the world,
 the times we have screamed out in pain
or sobbed into our pillows,
the times we have crawled with hunger
upon the floor of the desert
or watched another die,
all these scars etched onto our being,
and He will not remove
 any single little one of them.


What He will do make
each single little wound on our being
shine like the greatest jewel,
the most sumptuous diamond,
the most precious gold.

The suffering is not worthy to be compared
with the glory that is to be revealed in us,
in our wounds which cover our souls.

The suffering itself will cease;
it will pass away like chaff in the wind.

The scars that remain
God will cherish,
especially if these are wounds of love.

And God Himself will show us His scars
burning brighter than the Sun:
one in each hand,
 each foot
  and on His side.

The scars that His Resurrection body still bears.

 He shared His humanity with us
with all its pain, heartache and crushing misery,
so that we might share His Divinity with Him.


This does not explain why we suffer as we do.

This does not explain
why bad things happen to good people.

All we are presented with is the Cross,
 and the hope of the Resurrection behind it.

If there is an answer to the problem of Evil,
where will we find it?

Do you think knowing the answer
 would really make the pain go away?

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