October 2016

Lost and found

Anthony de Mello, the Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, in his book of parables The Song of the Bird tells the following story:

A man found his neighbour scrambling around in the dirt outside his house, and asked him what he was doing. ‘Looking for my key,’ was the reply. The man offered to help, but, after a while of fruitless searching asked his neighbour where he had lost the key. ‘Inside the house.’ ‘Then why are we looking for it outside?’ ‘Because there is more light here.’

An interesting tale, and one that came to mind the other week when the Gospel reading was the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The truth is that God does not need to search for us: he is with us and knows us, lovingly, at all times. All we need to do is to recognise him and accept him, and we can’t do that if we are looking for him in the wrong place.

I was very conscious during my decades teaching at a secondary school that the boys and girls there were very vulnerable to approaches from Christian groups who presented them with the idea that Jesus loves them for a sunbeam. It is a message which is very comforting, especially when people are going through a stage in life when confidence is not necessarily their strongest card, but it is less helpful when the time comes when the sun disappears behind a big, black cloud, as it does with all of us at various points of our life whether because of bereavement, loss, disappointment, ill health, depression or whatever. At that stage, if that is your whole understanding of Jesus our God, then you are left high and dry. It is the theological equivalent of All things bright and beautiful, which, if I can confess this confidentially to you, is one of my least favourite hymns.

The truth is that we have most need of God not in times of light but in times of darkness. And it is in times of darkness - especially when that darkness has been created by mankind - that God’s presence is most powerful. I am sometimes inevitably faced with questions like ‘Where was God in the suffering of the Second World War?’ or ‘Where is God in Syria?’ The answer, which is perhaps an uncomfortable one for those who expect God both to give us free will and to correct things when we get it wrong, is that God was with his people in the gas chambers, and God is with his people being barrel-bombed and gassed in Aleppo. 

There are those who seem to think that belief in God is some sort of insurance policy against things going wrong, and who then, when things do go wrong, lose their faith. Belief in God does not stop nasty things from happening, but it does help us when things do get nasty, not least because, no matter how much the world might seem to hate us, and no matter how much we might dislike ourselves, God is always with us and God always loves us, and all he wants us to do is to respond lovingly to other people.

That might - and probably does sound - trite, but, in a world where there is so much darkness created by mankind, quite apart from the darkness created by the fact that we are all subject to human mortality, just imagine what the world would be like if we all responded to God’s love by treating all those around us lovingly - by accepting them as they are and treating with the respect due to all our fellow men and women. 

To do that, we should not waste our time looking for God in the light, but by recognising him in the darkness, by accepting and feeling his love for us there and by responding to it by trading all others in the same way. God meets us in the darkness: if we respond, then we can make the darkness brighter.


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