I remember being told that God is all powerful and can do anything. God has power over everything and controls all nature and everything in the world. They used a big word that I didn’t understand – omnipotent. God held all power and was bigger and better than anyone or anything.
I think I believed that for a long while – I had no reason to doubt what older, wiser Christians told me. They pointed to particular Bible references and I believed them – until it didn’t make sense anymore. Can God do anything? Does God have total control over everything? It is nice to believe this when everything is going your way but what happens when things work against you? When my eyes were opened to some of the deeper realities of this life, I began to wonder. I started reading other parts of the Bible where there are more questions than answers and where anger drips from the pages – much directed towards God and the injustice and pain people experience.
Last week I wrote about some of what I felt in this strange society we inhabit at the moment, one of greed, fear and anxiety. I wrote about my sheer despair at the lack of moral leadership exhibited by many of our elected leaders and the horror I feel for those who are very vulnerable in this nation and across the globe when nations like ours knows little in the way of compassion.
So the question haunts me: Where is God in all of this? The clichéd nonsense I have heard too much of that assumes God is in control and could change anything, anywhere with just a word indicts God as non-caring or uninterested.
In his book, ‘When Bad Things Happen To Good People’, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrestles with his own questions about God’s omnipotence and love. In the midst of watching his teenage son die of an ageing disease, Kushner asks deep questions of his faith and of God. If God is all powerful and loving, why is his son dying like this? Why hasn’t God answered his prayers? How can an all-powerful, loving God watch on and do nothing as a child suffers?
He concluded that either God does not have the omnipotence we imagine or God is not all-loving. His exploration of his faith drew him deeper into the mystery of God whose love and whose power is not through absolute control over everything but who is in all things, vulnerable to the forces and desires of the world. Can God stop greedy people being greedy? Can God stop powerful people acting maliciously towards their brothers and sisters? Can God stop you or I doing that which we want to do – whether good or bad? Of course not! God is not a cosmic puppet-master. We have free will and are invited to exercise it as we will. That’s our freedom and our problem.
It is a perennial problem for humanity because it is too easy to give into the darker side of our being and succumb to the seductions and fears of the world around. Equally when we look upon the world with anger and frustration in our powerlessness and we sit back feeling defeated and helpless, our silence is an exercise of our free will – to do nothing!
Our congregation is joining with many others over the first 4 weeks of September in ‘The Seasons of Creation’. It is an opportunity to ponder the deep wisdom of God revealed through the world of God’s creation. This week the theme is Storm Sunday and it recalls the power of God revealed in storms: the wind, lightning and thunder. Recalling the words of the ancient Psalm 29 we are encouraged to ‘ascribe greatness to the Lord’. The psalm describes the power of God in many ways, symbolised by the power of nature. In the light of my earlier questions I’m not sure I always see this dimension of God? Never-the-less there is a simple faith and trust in this writer of poetry to believe that ultimately God will draw all things into some kind of unity and hope. There is a raw power there that reaches out and makes noises to attract attention and to point us in other directions. I suppose that I feel vulnerable before storms and begin to recognise my own impotence before the powers of the world. I turn inwards and ask questions about who or what I will turn to in the ‘storms’ that shake my life? Who or what will hold me in the midst of such turmoil? Will the powers that be in my world protect or care for me? Is there a power, beneath these powers that I can trust in and hope in to hold me through the storm and calm my fear? I think this is where the psalm points me – to God.
Equally in the Gospel reading from Luke 8:22-25 we read a simple story of Jesus and the disciples on a boat crossing the lake in Galilee. Crossing over means they are travelling to the Gentile territory; they are venturing out of the comfortable, safe environs of the Jewish world to speak of God in the darker places of life. As they ride the boat, a storm erupts and threatens them. Jesus is awakened by the disciples raises his voice against the wind and waves, the powerful forces that confront them and orders stillness. They continue over to the other side and then encounter a man who is lost amongst the graves, the places of death, out of his mind. Jesus confronts this evil and the dark powerful forces with a loving embrace into God’s community. He raises his voice and orders the demonic powers, the darkness, away and embraces the peace of God in the midst of pain.
I think that we need to begin to raise our voices! Several people have commented to me on the reflection notes last week, that they felt the same as me – powerless before the powers of the world who are abusive towards the most vulnerable people. Many share the view that our nation has become greedy and lost its moral bearings towards that which is deeply important – compassion, justice, community and caring for the weak, the poor and the vulnerable of the earth.
It is time for us to raise our voices as Jesus did, to speak out with a loud, unified voice against the powers that threaten life and hope. It is time we put aside our fears and prejudices and worked together for what we seem to be losing and for what we believe deeply is true and right. It was when Jesus raised his voice in a faithful response to the powers of the world that God was revealed in power and strength. When we sit quietly in our rooms and ask God to do for us that which we should do, nothing much happens! Do you feel the anger, the frustration, the feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness then it is time for us to pool our words, our hopes and our faithful actions into a united voice for truth, justice and the way of Jesus!