Faith in the thicket

I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience:

Atheists, agnostics or secularists taking the ‘Dawkins’ line of telling you what they think you ought to believe, and having set up this particular straw man, expecting you to be intimidated as they proceed to attack and dismantle it?  

It’s important to be able to say with confidence, that you don’t believe in the useless, petty,  and obnoxious god they don’t believe in! 

Nor in the fluffy bunny!

Nor indeed, in a faith hostile to and domineering with regard to  life and natural ‘resources’. Though such assertions frequently go unchallenged.

You don’t believe in that…

But do you?  Or do you think you ought to?  Is there some voice in the back of your head?  

As a grassroots minister, I  sometimes wondered if I were continually at war, in preaching,  with the Sunday-school teachers of half a century or more before, themselves passing  on, with less than reflective obedience, what they had received.  Please, if, today  you are introducing children to Christianity, immerse them in Creation, and in wonder!

But for now:

Was there ever a time when the narrative of the danger to life of avoidable human destructiveness had more coherence? Or indeed, the peril  of idolatry: the lethally misleading worship of false gods?

Catastrophe repeatedly seems to be built into the way the world works, when pushed too hard, and  disaster, unsurprisingly,  frequently linked to human behaviour, stupidity, greed and injustice. 

Surveys of prehistoric  Britain show that  ecological collapse through defoliation has been well within the capability even of less technological societies.  We’ve done it before.  We should take note. And I might speculate (wildly) that the importance of sacred  trees to the spirituality we dimly glimpse from afar to the ‘druids’, described by writers from the hostile,  invading,  Romans, and even mentioned (by attribution)  by such as St Columba, should not be underestimated.

Returning to more easily attributable thoughts….

A sense of ‘you have been warned’ pervades the whole of Scripture. (And, incidentally, not just in Christianity, but we’ll keep the word-count down for now.)  I can’t think of any instance where a bolt from the blue arrives because God had a bad hair day, though the Book of Job – and indeed much of the teaching of Jesus – goes out of its way to disconnect genuinely ‘natural’ processes from any sort of ‘no smoke without fire’ argument.  The planet always has its own agenda.

Creation becomes the  more alarmingly irrational when we pretend that it came into being for us, or that we are the centre, the pinnacle and purpose of the universe.  Mainstream Christian  critics of ‘anthropocentricism’ concur.  Maybe  even that  “big word” isn’t strong enough: ‘anthropolatry” – the idolatry of the human might be more like it, though even that, it seems, is a mask to the idolatry of the injustice of the Market, ( mammonolatry) itself a human invention.

Not that human beings are at all neglected in the stories of our faith. Humanity has and evolves a place and purpose in the management of the Garden. 

Is the Incarnation “for us”? Or just the Cross? And how wide or how exclusive is the “us”? Every time  I try to pin down provision reserved only  for human life, it involves a mental pruning of the wide web of Life. Of the thicket, the brush, the forest of intimate connection with the rest of Creation.

There’s realism in  the poetic Book  of Job: the processes of the earth are not determined by humanity, though we are now effectively  at war  with “laws that cannot broken”.  I wonder if this might seem ‘gloomy’, but it looks as if living well and with justice is not automatically “rewarded” by prosperity, (for  that is the fallacy of ‘Prosperity Gospel’ ) though self-destructive behaviour and pig-headedness and complacency, with regard to warning signs, lay cataclysmic foundations.

God the Creator also repeatedly does time as God the Mitigator: what matters is not the wrath or anger of God expressed through cataclysm, but the safeguarding of the seeds of life, in partnership with faithful, and invariably far-from-perfect people. We find God picking up the pieces after tragedy, rather than bringing it on.  But also in the tears of Christ, seeing it coming.

Do you find, in the Garden of Eden story of Genesis, a vindictive overlord, or a God creatively limiting damage?

Do you find in the story of the Great Flood someone who has thrown their rattle out of the pram, or who  in the face of damage done to the planet holds on to life through partnership with people who will listen?

Do you share in the terror of Isaiah that God cannot be contained either in temples or ideas, but rather that God’s glory fills all Creation?

And are you able to  hear, in John 1:14  That the Word  became flesh, rather than, in the first instance, only human?

Ah well, this is a speculative blog, rather than a PhD thesis. But if you’ve begin to question some of what imprisons and enslaves  us as Christians, and liberated from the feeling you need to defend what turns out, in the end, to be inauthentic, then it’s worthwhile .

I believe…. we should pray and think about what we believe.

And maybe, as Abraham looked up and found in the thicket, confirmation both welcome and disillusioning,  that a God worth believing in does not require sacrifice of what we should love, a way forward may be found.