Believing in a world like this

What does it mean to believe in God? Photo by: Lane V. Erickson
What does it mean to believe in God? Photo by: Lane V. Erickson
By on April 19, 2013

What does it mean to believe in God in our world? For some of us, belief may not come easy. I think of the people who come to the parish office seeking a food voucher. Many have physical or mental health problems, and they are simply unable to work or hold a steady job. They live from month to month, from one government check to another, sometimes going without a meal, and often struggling to survive by eating all the wrong food. What does it mean for these people to believe in God?

Other people have trouble believing in God because they have experienced one bad break after another, one heartache after another, one disappointment or failure after another. I think of the man cut down in the prime of life by a debilitating stroke. I think of the parents who were brought to the brink of bankruptcy because of the actions of their wayward son. I think of the middle-aged woman who suffered a breakdown because she could no longer balance all the demands in her life. I think of the man who lost his job at age 52 after his company moved the plant to Mexico, and he wondered what type of job would he ever hold again and how he would provide for his wife and three children. You can think of your own scenario, I am sure. There are too many people who have had too much heartbreak for belief in God to come easy.

But perhaps we have to back up and redefine our use of the word “God.” People use the word to mean any number of things, but when Christians refer to God, we mean the God of Jesus Christ; the God who suffered, died and was buried but rose on the third day; the God who knows our pains and sorrows, and bears our burdens. This is a wounded God, a crucified God-a God who knows hurt and pain and grief. This is not the God of the Silicon Valley elite or Hollywood movie stars. This is the God who knows rejection, failure and disappointment. This God triumphs in the resurrection but only after he suffers and dies on a cross.

Do you see what this means for you and me anytime we feel hard pressed or beaten down? It means that we have a God who has experienced the worst things that can happen to human beings-evil, suffering and death-and has overcome them all. This God knows what it is like to be an outcast, marginalized and rejected, yet triumphing over all the powers that would destroy our human worth.

“Human hope is the greatest power in life and the only thing that defeats death,” someone once wrote. Well, in Jesus hope has conquered despair, life has defeated death and love has overcome hate. Whatever the world throws at us, we know that in the end God’s victory in Jesus is final and complete. If you believe this, then you can rebound from any adversity that comes your way.

I think of Dave Dravecky, the former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. At the peak of his career in 1991 he lost his pitching arm to cancer. Those who watched his 1989 comeback will never forget the Montreal game. Dave’s left arm snapped with a deafening crack that could be heard in the stands. It is bad enough to have cancer, let alone face the amputation of an arm, but then on top of that, to lose a promising career as a major league baseball player.

Dave Dravecky was honest enough to admit that he faced his own doubts and that faith was not always easy. And yet, he came through that ordeal convinced there is a God, a loving, caring God who sustained him in his weakness and strengthened him for the journey of living. I dare say that Dave Dravecky has probably done more good with one arm than he ever did with two because he has inspired and uplifted hurting people to cope with their own pain and suffering, and he has helped countless folks to face the future with faith rather than fear.

You and I may never experience the adversity Dave Dravecky did, and yet we can keep the faith that God will see us through whatever challenges come our way. We can focus on Jesus, confident that every cross leads to a crown. We can face the heartaches of life knowing that God is with us every step of the way. Quite simply, there is simply no adversity that we cannot face in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Years ago when I was visiting a friend in England, a neighbour came over for tea and spoke of his experience in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. It was a place of unbearable torture and human degradation. The prisoners were treated horribly and their lives seemed not worth living.

One of the prisoners, who sang in a church choir before he went into the military, would sometimes hum songs to himself as the prisoners were being led out to the fields to work each day. Walking along in the sweltering heat, miserable, unfed, unwashed, he would sing. He often hummed William Blake’s great poem “Jerusalem,” put to music by the British church composer Sir Charles Hubert Parry. The Japanese guards did not know the tune, so the song meant nothing to them. But to the prisoners, the tune evoked freedom, hope and new life.

I will not cease from mental flight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

Soon the whole camp was humming the tune each day on the way out to work, with the guards oblivious to the revolutionary significance of this defiant gesture.

What does it mean to believe in God in a world like this? If you are a Christian who believes in the resurrection of Jesus, then it means affirming that the best is yet to come, that evil and death never have the last word in our lives, and that God will always make a way where there is no way.

So don’t despair. Don’t become cynical or bitter. Don’t admit defeat. Focus on Jesus, keep the faith, persevere and live in the power of the resurrection, triumphantly, joyfully and hopefully, today and forever.

 

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.

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