On our recent family camping trip, siting around the campfire, conversation naturally turned to religion. Ha! I wonder if this is something that happens in other families? But hey, if you have churchies in your family, this is the risk you run.
Still, I am not one for religious debate- I don't mind talking about faith (I'd much rather write about it) but I do worry about saying something wrong or worse, not-quite-right. I feel like religion is such a tricky thing to talk about well, especially in group-chat kind of settings. So when we started the conversation, I kept quiet, except when I couldn't.
Often, in those settings, people just want to say what they want to say- they're not looking for insight, I find. But within a group I think there are also people who earnestly long to know, really have questions they'd love to ask. And there are inevitably, I think, people who are wondering why we don't all just shut up about this stuff, or who think it's crazy, or who have been so badly wounded by some church that they are seething through the whole conversation.
Anyway. I've been thinking about one of the questions that came up that starry night- the "where was God" question. It's the bazillion dollar question- I just saw it handled rather badly by a vicar on a BBC show, in fact, today (Broadchurch! Are you watching? It's not a church show, it's a mystery, and wow it's good!).
The question goes "where was God when this bad thing happened?" If something bad happens to one person and something good to someone else, does that mean God picked them to bless, rejected the other? Was someone being punished by God when something bad happened? Or, on the other hand, was someone being blessed by God in return for good behavior, or strong faith?
Well, here's what I think.
I think that like we read in 1 John, God is Love. Ta-daaa!!! No, no, there's more. This idea, that God is Love, is the key to that "where was God" question. If God is Love, then when you ask "where was God" you can also ask it this way: "where was love?" It's an easier question to answer- of course, you can look at the very worst of situations and find love. Say, for instance, that your friend has a terrible accident. Where was love? Maybe love was in his family who came to visit him in the hospital. Maybe love was in the nurses who cared for him, in the blood donated by strangers... maybe love was in the co-workers who sent flowers. Maybe love was in the friends who arranged for meals to be cooked for your friend while he was recovering. Maybe love was in the heart of your friend, who resolved to change his life. But what if your friend died? Love is still there, in all those places. Love abides in accidents, in illnesses, in the darkest of war.
But love- it does not keep us safe. It does not save us from harm or hurt. Love just... loves. Love manifests, love sustains, but love does not do tricks. Love doesn't keep track of faith or good works, Love does not reward, love does not punish.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Doesn't that scripture seem suddenly more radical? And, if this is true, doesn't it necessarily have to change the way we think about how God works? It changes the way we pray and the way we worship- it changes what we expect of God, and it changes how we share our faith with others. God Is Love are the three most life-changing words I've ever heard.