Posted by: mikebackup | May 18, 2012

Recent tragedies and faith in a loving, protective God

John 17.6-19 – Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

I’m reflecting on the whole idea of God’s protection today and this reading offers a glimpse into what that protection perhaps is and isn’t. We see Jesus reflecting on the moment at hand – that it is time to let the disciples go on without him. Straight away something rather surprising can be read between the lines – he appears worried and tense. Whenever Jesus found himself in that situation he did one thing – pray to the Father. His prayer is passionate and riddled with the apprehension he feels. It is like the tension we have as parents when we let our children go into the world on their own. Jesus provided protection and guidance while he was with the disciples, but now he has to let them carry his message without him physically alongside. Like us he is riddled with the ‘what ifs’, the temptations to travel the wrong path, the evil of others, the possibility it could all go wrong.

These sort of verses are fascinating because they offer the idea of a vulnerable God, a God worried about our future, worried about what might happen to us, a God that doesn’t know what’s going to happen to us. The thought that God has extended the freedom of creation beyond his control is thought provoking and challenging for us. It’s good to reflect in this way because when faced with recent tragedies we need some sort of response to the question ‘where are you God?’

Firstly there’s Lewis Mighty, who on Wednesday morning at the age of seven lost his battle against Neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. He fought for four long years and the story of the past week has been heart-breaking.

Here’s what his family put on Facebook during Monday

Monday day:

Lew had a comfy night….hes done everything he needed too. Hes said all the goodbyes he needs to. Last night we knew one last person needed to bisit…Rupert his doggy. They hugged and Rupert was very gentle and docile…..lewis has had enough.

Monday night:

Lewis is very comfortable…he spoke to me and Perry for 16 hrs yesterday non stop. He cleared his amazing mind and gave me so so much inner peace. Today he hasnt spoken much and has slept most of day…..i know he can hear me and although his eyes are closed i feel a massive bond that requires no words. I will treasure every smell, taste and memory of my beautiful beautiful boy. I can barely breath my heart feels like it will stop..Jaime xxxxx

Tuesday night:
Lewis remains comfy at present…sadly his pain relief has been increased. He is unable to talk to me know to tell me if he is in pain. I feel so useless. Hes so tired and needs to be free now. No mother should EVER witness her baby like this.

Then in the early hours of Wednesday morning:
Lewis became an angel at 2.30am this morning. He was very peaceful

Then there was the loss of Jade Philpott, ten, and her brothers John, nine, Jack, seven, Jessie, six, and Jayden, five, who all died when a fire was started deliberately at their home.

These stories rip your heart to pieces and then ask our faith ‘where are you God?’ These tragedies can destroy someone’s faith in an instant and they have made me think long and hard this past week. I need a very good answer so I can still stand up and say without contradiction ‘I believe in a loving, protective God’.

What I share now are my own reflections and resolve. I’m not asking you to agree, but they are the way I can personally still stand here as a Baptist Minister and say those words. I begin with the verse from Job 38.4 when God says ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much’. This first thought isn’t a defence of God but a reminder for me that I don’t know everything, in fact I know very little. I wasn’t with God at the beginning of creation and I have very little understanding. God’s creation, love and purposes are way bigger than me.

You see that thought leads me onto that peculiar but incredible quality we know as hope. Yes, I could say ‘there’s no God, it’s all desperate and for nothing’, but no matter how far down I’m sunk into the darkness, hope brings me back up to the surface like a bubble of air. Hope is stronger than despair and as we read in 1 Corinthians 13 it is one of the greatest qualities of God given love. Hope for me is a God given gift that gives an answer when I don’t have one and that leads me onto the cross and resurrection.

God suffered and was murdered by those he created. Despite being taken down into death through evil, it did not and does not have the last word.

God didn’t plan for the world to go wrong, but he has done his best to rescue it out of the darkness of evil and suffering. God has rescued us with love. Of course one of the greatest qualities of love is that it is given freely and we are free to ignore and reject it. But God doesn’t ever give up and will fight to be seen. For Lewis and the Philpott family, the coming together of people in support has been staggering and moving to see. Light and goodness is being seen in the darkness and suffering, like those lanterns lit for Lewis.

Then for me there are the concrete ways God offers protection. This protection is still offered in love and therefore gives freedom, freedom to us to ignore it and freedom to others to ignore it even if we do take it up. It doesn’t provide Superman like powers and it doesn’t stop the freedom given to nature and what can go wrong with our frail bodies.

God’s protection is a bit like a map with which we can navigate through life. The map has a guide too, the Holy Spirit and together they offer real protection for our lives. This map guides us to prayer. Evidence suggests that this will not result in supernatural intervention when evil or suffering strikes, but what it does do is orientate ourselves to God’s way. So by that very communication with God we are unlikely to put ourselves in situations that endanger ourselves or others. Through prayer, when illness or evil strikes we have the joy and peace of God’s presence.

The map guides us to the Bible and living a loving life in community so that we can live as it says in Galatians 5:22-23 with ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’.

I also think God’s protection has another side to it; one which is explored in the suffering servant hood Jesus lived and calls his disciples to follow. Jesus says we must take up our cross and follow him. That can lead down a very dangerous road in terms of our own physical protection, but spiritually, morally and in terms of justice it can offer great protection for the lives of the poor, repressed, dispossessed and abused. Martin Luther King is a great example. Early on he lived a protected life through God’s guidance and teaching. He was then called to work for the protection of others. He achieved this, but it cost him his own life in doing so.

God through non-violent, non-intrusive ways offers magnificent protection for our lives. This protection enables a very close relationship with God and he wants that for everyone. The problem is so many choose a destructive path resulting in many people being very vulnerable. Disciples are then called to shield and protect these people. This may lead to following the route Jesus took, dying in order to protect the lives of others.

So I still stand here as a Baptist Minister, not without my doubts or pain but a belief I’ve chosen the right path. For me it all comes back to being co-creators with God. He has given us the gifts, the ability, the teaching and then he guides us every step of the way to enable us to provide a loving, safe environment for ourselves and everyone else.

We still live in broken world though and it’s here we have to cling onto God’s hope being stronger that despair, God’s love being stronger than hate. That doesn’t take the pain away, but it gives me and everyone else who wants it an answer to the meaning of life.

Take a minute to reflect on all this by watching this recent advert, that for me explains what I’ve just said really well. Then read the following poem ‘Not Out’.

Not Out by Gerard Kelly

God is my home-help, my companion,
my full-time carer. All that I need
that I can’t provide, he brings to me.

Like a guide dog a route map,
a satellite guidance system, he gets me
to where I need to be.

Like a herdsman, a shepherd,
a cowboy,
a game-park warden,
he sees to it that I reach good grazing.
He has a nose for the freshest water, an eye for the greenest grass.

He’s the headmaster
I want to spend time with, the constable
whose company I don’t fear.
He watches my back, keeps me covered, keeps me free
to be me.

When the things I most dread press in on me,
when death
and debt
and sickness
fall like shadows across my path, he lets me know he’s there:
a pinch in the darkness,
a poke in the ribs,
a whisper in my ear,
a slap in the face of fear, and I press on
until shadow gives way to sun.

My goodness!
I’m being followed. Mercy me!
I’m being tailed. And, stalker and all,
I intend to live like this forever.

Finish by listening to ‘I will offer up my life’ by Matt Readman:

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