‘An Affirming Faith in The Face of Covid’   

Posted: March 16, 2022 in Uncategorized

‘An Affirming Faith in The Face of Covid’             

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, it seems, believed in a God who punished the bad people and rewarded the good. They went so far as to say:

• if you live in poverty or have a bad accident or disease, you are revealed by God as a sinner;

• if you are healthy and prosper you are revealed by God as a righteous person. We no longer think that sin is that simple or able to be relieved by an interventionist God.

There is a story that gives us a bit of a modern version of that old way of thinking; it goes like this….

A minister… let’s call her Diana, rushed around to the home of friends where a small child has suddenly died. She was met at the door by the distraught father, a senior lecturer in mathematics at the local university, who usually was most composed. “O Diana, thanks for coming.  It’s a nightmare. You know, I have not been reading my Bible much these days.” At first Diana was confused by her friend’s opening remark. What had reading the Bible to do with a little child’s death? Later, after she had thought the issue through, Diana was able to help untangle the poor father’s anguish.

The father’s first reaction had been to feel guilty. Years before, when he had been confirmed, he had promised to ‘diligently study the scriptures.’ In the anguish of the new grief, the ancient fear that the death was a punishment from God, had broken loose. Some one was at fault. It must be him. His mind came up with a broken vow. Normally, that man would have logically dismissed the idea of a child’s death as divine retribution, as rubbish. But in the grief crisis, the ancient superstition had got the jump on him. In all of us, primitive stuff like that lies semi-hidden. It’s like the ghosts of old gods that refuse to completely go away.

In all of us, hidden away in the murkier parts of our psyche, are irrational fears and superstitions. These are a hangover from the not so ancient, primitive past of homo sapiens. And by not so ancient I mean that they may only be 500 or so years old. One of these superstitions is that we may be the guilty cause of accidents and disease to ourselves or those whom we love dearly. There are of course some religious people in New Zealand today who are still committed to that concept of God. Some of us may still slip into that thinking as it has been so strong in our lives. The God of this thinking when held up against the whole picture is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous, and of the reward of good health and prosperity for the righteous. It is a simple view but one under huge challenge today.

Rex Hunt quotes from a sermon delivered by Bruce Prewer, a retired Uniting Church minister and author of many books which help shape an Australian spirituality, and he says that; “One of the most recent statements of this unhappy dogma, was exhibited recently by an evangelist (so called!).  It was offering time at a big gathering and the announcement was made before the offering. The leader said: ‘We all know bad economic times are coming.  There will be a great collapse of the markets and people will lose everything they own. But those who give well to God this day will be among the few who will do well and prosper in the bad times that must come.’” Bruce Prewer’s response was: “Yuk!” (Prewer web site 2004)

Others, such as John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan and Sallie McFague, are also at the forefront of putting old theological superstitions to bed. The challenge is for us to do the same. Happiness or misery cannot be simply equated with goodness and badness. That old superstition is a lie. The old gods of retribution and reward who lurk in the dark corners of our minds, are false gods. Dismiss the superstition.  We have Jesus’ word on it. But…

And sometimes there always seems to be a ‘but’, doesn’t there! We also have the claim that Jesus’ word says: ‘Do not pretend that the good or evil that we do does not matter’. Of course, many of us believe that accidents, massacres, disease, are not God’s punishments. But if we don’t watch our step, if we don’t hedge our bets on this, we can all end up with another kind of disaster…we will likewise perish. Not as bodies that die, but as persons who can decay and perish while living. This is the loss of hope issue, the sense that with the liberalization of theology and faith we might lose control and end up with a horrible life. Better the current belief than the more complex one.

This is also part of the current ‘climate change’ debate. The war in Ukraine discussion, the legitimacy of the recent vaccination protest and its debate Whatever side you might choose to be as to its authenticity you will have to deal with it. Theologian, Sallie McFague, writes: “Global warming is not just another important issue that human beings need to deal with; rather, it is the demand that we live differently.  While I prefer to understand that global warming requires a slightly different approach than climate change, I agree that we cannot solve it, deal with it, given our current approach to conflict. It is not simply an issue of management; sure, it does require us to take seriously the amount of plastic in our oceans and the amount of waste that our economic system produces, and the assault on freedoms rights and outcomes but that is a management issue and it is not enough, rather, I thing it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  Sally reminds us that the challenge is that without a shift in paradigm we cannot expect ourselves or others to undertake the radical behavioural change that is necessary to address our planetary crisis.” (McFague 2008:44). As individuals, as a world, we are all capable of perishing… not as a species limited by biology because we all die but rather disintegrating as persons. And none of us is exempt.

It is also not unlike the impact and response to the shooting in Christchurch three years ago. The ignorance of or naivety around the fact that we are surprised and shamed by what took place in our lovely country will not be addressed by management of behaviour. New rules and regulations about what a protest is and how it should be managed will not change the environment. We have discovered that we have less rules than other countries but their experience is that even more rules does not stop such atrocities. We have also discovered that we have ignored our own history in that atrocities of a greater nature have taken place in our nation’s past. Hundreds of people have been slaughtered in our own internal racial wars. For those of us who are of Jewish and Christian heritage violent atrocities are part of our heritage.

Rex Hunt suggests that this Lent might be a good time for us to do a couple of ‘life-affirming’ things. Maybe we can update the thinking which shapes our faith and beliefs.

Maybe we can change our minds and hearts by looking for the life-affirming clues all around us – the tender care rather than the axe! This requires us to accept that as a species we have instinctive and psychological traits that have generated social, political and religious paradigms that need challenging. The acceptance of an original sin, the obsession with self-deprecating repentance as the sole means of change, the rising acceptance of revenge as closure all need to be challenged if we are to rid ourselves of violence as a means of change. Our history as a species is riddled with it and we know it does not solve things. Maybe we can be the special people we are, but it requires more than just a cognitive awareness and a management process by which we prevent ourselves from continuing to act out in a simple fight or flight response to difference and challenge. But before we do this, I want to show a video that I think might help us think before we act. It is a video about the human brain that asks us to think differently about how we come to our decisions and it challenges old assumptions about how we do this. My hope is that if we are better informed about our own processing of life, we might ask ourselves the important questions before we respond to the unknown or the challenging with violence and control and more legislation.

Notes:
McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the world, and global warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.

rexae74@gmail.com

Video: The Path of Wisdom

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