DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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SUNDAY BEFORE LENT
God Does Play Dice

1Corinthians 13.11  When I was a child, my speech, feelings and thinking were those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.

Albert Einstein rejected unpredictability as an element in the scheme of things. "God does not play dice," he exclaimed when faced with the proposal that uncertainty lies at the root of the physical world.

He was the product of an outlook which regards the universe as ultimately neatly ordered. It follows from this that if we can find out in detail how it works, we should be able to eliminate the unexpected.

In contrast, for millennia people have experienced life as high-risk. Their survival was constantly under threat. Life was short and often far from sweet. War and famine were a constant. Until the modern age, only about two out of every ten children survived into adulthood.

The huge and growing population of our tiny planet witnesses to far greater certainty and security today. Millions now look forward to a long life. Much illness and injury can be treated. Children grow and mature where before they perished.

And then - along comes a natural disaster such as the tsunami of Christmastide, 2004. In a few short hours people around the globe recognise that they are still helpless subjects of a God who plays dice with human lives. A unpredictable slippage of the earth's crust ends their illusion of relative security.

There are a variety of responses to God's tendency to gamble. Some in Indonesia proclaim that God is punishing corruption by foreign tourists. Others call for a better warning system. Yet others absorb the blow and get on with their lives. They mourn the dead and repair the roof.

That is, human beings respond to apparently random disaster as they have always done. There seems no other way.

Nevertheless, Christians have a problem. God is traditionally supposed to be like a loving father. As Jesus himself is reputed to have said, "Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for an eel?" [1] 

Loving concern for people and playing dice with their lives don't go together.

What then? Do we rage at random suffering and death? Do we cower and supplicate? Or do we act miffed and cut ourselves off from God?

The temptation as Lent approaches is to slip into knee-jerk responses such as abject repentance. It may be hoped that if we grovel, God will be appeased. Or that if we discipline ourselves now with fasting and prayer, we'll fail less in days to come. Some may even hope that giving up something they enjoy will somehow cancel out a past error or two.

But these are all shallow reactions. They resemble the way a child evaluates cause and effect in his or her life. Jesus of Nazareth proposed another, more mature, reaction to life's uncomfortable realities.

It may seem as though God plays dice. That's only to be expected. The more we get to know about the universe, the more mysterious it gets. The reach of our minds is tiny by comparison to the depths of life.

Jesus' approach to "blind nature" is summed up as trust. Believe whatever hallowed doctrines you like. They will mutate and die. Seek refuge in cold certainty. It will be melted by the facts of life. Go to church on Sundays. Neither the building nor the institution will keep out God's tsunami. Worry about the end of civilisation. It will pass away.

Rather, says Jesus, trust that God's creation is good. It will, after all, endure far, far beyond the lifespan of the human race.
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[1] (Matthew 7.9-10)

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