We all experience times in our lives when we have to deal with tough stuff. Things go wrong. Things we didn’t expect to happen to us, do happen and we are hurt, sad and grief stricken. The truth is that bad things do happen to good people. Having a Christian faith doesn’t protect us from sour experiences. But, hopefully our faith when we’re going through tough times helps us cope.
After my dramatic health situation while on holiday in Germany, last year, I’m continuing to experience ongoing health problems. But despite the fact that it’s now been five months, and I’m still not well, I’m still feeling somewhat cocooned and protected. I said to Andrew the other day that it feels like I’m wrapped in bubble wrap. The impact of all the ongoing health problems is cushioned. It’s still happening, but I’m not bruising as easily as I could be. I don’t think I’m in any denial about what is going on with my body, the daily grind is impossible to ignore. So why do I feel so cushioned and safe? I can only conclude that my faith has carried me through.
I shouldn’t be surprised by this really, given it’s what I believe for myself and for others I guide on their spiritual journey, but it’s nice when it really matters, to know that faith really does help! And it’s extremely comforting to me, to know that my faith does provide me comfort.
But I know people who are going through difficult times and don’t find the same comfort in their faith. It’s made me think a bit about this of late and reflect on why my faith has helped me so much as well as hoping that in the future I’ll continue to get the same comfort from my faith. I’ve been wondering if for me, my current bubble-wrap comfort is rooted in my view of God. Maybe our view of God, affects what we think God can be and do in our lives. Two people experiencing the same thing, both cope differently and have a different view of God’s involvement in their lives.
I’ve heard all kinds of things said by people that show how they view God.
If our view of God is something like ‘God as Santa Claus’, handing out special treats to good boys and girls, we assume that our ‘goodness’ as noticed by God is rewarded by treats from God. Our interaction with God is reduced to something like us making lists of things we want to receive once a year, while trying to avoid getting on a naughty list meaning we’d end up with no treats.
If our view of God is something like ‘God as Fairy Godmother’, waving a wand and fixing things that are not quite right, magically turning our pumpkins into carriages and our rags into beautiful gowns, we assume that God moves in and out of our lives, transforming some of our ordinary into extraordinary and making us feel special. Our interaction with God is reduced to a cry for help for what we want from God, a cry to change our circumstances and bring us riches and magical moments.
If our view of God is something like ‘God as Police Officer’, enforcing rules, keeping the law, looking after public health and safety, we see God as official law enforcers, uniformed and tough, sometimes on our side, sometimes on the side of the other person. Our interaction with God is reduced to a valiant attempt to keep the laws and be a good citizen, staying out of God’s way, and only involving God’s help personally with our emergency phone call when something is going wrong.
If our view of God is something like ‘God as Judge’, determining whether by our behaviour we’re guilty or not-guilty and dishing out punishment accordingly, we see God as remote from us, sitting behind a high bench, protected by the legal traditions and processes. Our interaction with God only happens at times of judgement, maybe when we think we’ve done something wrong or if someone else we know has wronged us, and in our eyes deserves punishment.
There are plenty of other views of God out there, and feel free to post a comment with your ideas. I think the closest I can come to describing my view of God, is something like God as Journey Guide. You’ll know if you’ve ever been on a tourist tour and had a great local guide, how it helps to really see what is going on in the places you’re travelling through, to get an appreciation of the people that live in that place, their history and customs, to figure out currencies and sort out simple things that become so important on tour, such as great places to eat! There is also the adventure guide, such as the Sherpas that guide hiking groups up the Nepalese mountains. I imagine that these guides know the way, know the conditions, know what to do when things get rough, know the unpredictability and uncertainties of the climb. These guides have experience of such journeys, yet at the same time, each journey is unique and new. No two climbs are the same, and each brings their own challenges, joys, dangers and achievements. And of course a journey guide can only lead if people are willing to follow. And as a follower, you can’t opt in and out of parts of the climb, picking out the parts you want, choosing only to walk on the flat bits and somehow jump over the steep climbs and avoid them. You have to follow from the bottom to the top all the way if you’re going to be sure of where you’re going.
To me this metaphor comes closest to my faith understanding of Jesus as journey guide. One of my favourite things about Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel. In the birth of Jesus, the world received Emmanuel or ‘God is with us’. As Jesus lived amongst people, we have the eyewitness records of what kind of person this ‘God with us’ was, what he did, what he said and what he felt. ‘God with us’ or Jesus Christ as ‘journey guide’ is to me extremely comforting. Jesus who understands pain and suffering. Jesus who speaks words of peace and love, forgiveness and hope. Jesus who gives priority to the poor, the needy and the sick. Jesus who tells us to follow him. Jesus who shows us the way, the truth and the life. Jesus who faced despair, loneliness, sorrow and grief. There is such comfort in knowing that God with us, in the person of Jesus is alongside me. And right now he’s got me bubble wrapped because he knows that’s what I need.
I’ve been thinking all of this over in my head in the last few weeks, and had actually started writing the blog a few days ago up to this point…
This weekend I’ve been quietly sitting with my laptop and formatting our next book, ‘Solving the God Problem’. It’s written by Brian K. Smith, and is actually a revised version of a manuscript he wrote many years ago, called ‘The Xerox Equation’. As my eyes flicked over the words, it struck me that this manuscript has been hugely influential in my thinking and concept of my view of God. In fact it actually surprised me how many of the thoughts and ideas in Brian’s book, are integrally part of my faith, fully permeated through my thinking and have been now for many years. “Jesus is the Son of God. See him, and you’ve seen the God that nobody has ever seen.” (Brian K. Smith from the ‘Solving the God Problem – John for Today” Due for publication in next few weeks from Kereru Publishing.)
I first encountered Brian’s Xerox Equation when I was running a children’s holiday programme based on the seven signs from John’s gospel about 25 years ago. Andrew had a photocopy of the manuscript from his time at theological college when Brian was the Principal, and I used it as my base document to build up our holiday programme content. Over the years I’ve dipped into it many times. We were very excited when Brian agreed to give it a brush up for today’s world and publish it with Kereru. And many of Brian’s old students have already expressed enthusiasm to get a copy once we’ve published, so it’s not just us who’ve been influenced and impressed by his thinking. Brian’s commentary on John We see God through the person of Jesus. Reading the book of John from the bible alongside Brian’s John commentary shows that through understanding Jesus, we get a view of God.
Well this blog did not start out as a plug for our new book, but it is intriguing that the blog post flitting through my head of late and half written until today, should connect so well with my weekend’s work, so I really can’t help giving this a push! Brian’s book is written for those with little or no biblical background, so fits in well with my ‘all ages and all stages’ thinking and is really a book for anyone. Brian uses contemporary language and metaphors to unpack the gospel of John and things that you read in the bible and wonder what they mean, are explained engagingly and creatively. In its earlier format it was probably one of the first bible commentaries I had ever read, and reflecting on it now, I see how significant this has been to the foundation of my adult faith, my view of God and my life journey through the good times and the tough times. My bubble wrapping shouldn’t surprise me after all!
(Photo credit: my dress as seen through the bubble wrap)