Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The One Who Suffers-With

During this time of death (possibly as many as 300 people), suffering, bereavement, pain and loss in southern Australia, it is unfortunate that well known Pentecostal pastor, Danny Nalliah, told the media that the bush fires are God's judgment on Victorians whose parliament passed anti-life abortion "reforms" last year. Nalliah's words have been carried on the air waves right across the country, and have added immeasurably to the pain being experienced by Australians of all backgrounds.

Don't get me wrong. This is not an anti-Pentecostal rant. Indeed, a growing number of well-known Pentecostal pastors are distancing themselves from Nalliah, as they work alongside other clergy and all people of goodwill to relieve suffering and to support those who have lost everything. For example, Mark Conner, senior pastor of CityLife, Melbourne's largest Pentecostal church wrote on his blog: "Danny is an embarrassment to the Christian church, as he does not speak on behalf of the majority of Christians and churches, let alone God."

Michael Hansen, Director of Faith and Ministry, Lavalla Catholic College, Traralgon, Victoria, wrote this reflection:

Our hearts cry out to God! Not with the arithmetic of blame. Not because we think God sends fires. But because God is our way of speaking of the very depth of our being… and because God is compassionately engaged and knows us. Of course, this is like poetry and far from adequate or accurate. But we want to cry out to God and cry out with God. We want to believe that God is not disinterested. It is a conversation of the soul, our deep inner being. O God, hear our grief! O God, help these people!

What then moves within us and surges for fulfillment is compassion, the very being of God - an image for our co-humanity. Deep love for other people and for our world flows from within and joins us to each other and to God. God is an ocean of goodness, reaching our shore, yet far beyond our horizon and deeper than our profoundest thought. That surge moves us and we have learned to understand sin as resistance to its life. We see the tide of generosity about us and recognise the life of God.

Summoned to our common frailty we respond with human care. When people are reduced to surviving, our common humanity asserts itself.

Moments of vulnerability give us the opportunity to reconnect to what really matters. Ultimately that is about connecting to God. To do so is to sense a surging passion for good and for change, a refusal to ignore the plight of people beyond ourselves, a willingness to be engaged for all humanity.

Despite the events of recent days being beyond our control, we can still give and we can listen and we can imagine and pray as our fellow Victorians engage the horror and grief of losing their own and seeing the destruction of their homes and communities.

O God, we cry! O God, hear our grief! O God, help these people! O God, help us!
O God, help our community! O God, help us care about the world in which we live!

One of the theological blogs I look at from time to time posted this extract just over a week ago. From The End of Time by Joseph Ratzinger (2004), pages 50 - 52, it also inspires us to hang on to hope in tragic circumstances:

The One Who Suffers-With

"There is something of the deist hidden deep down in all of us: We no longer envision God as a subject who is really active in history-perhaps in the subjective, but even then in nothing but the subjective. When this happens, when we finally stop assuming that God really enters into history and-all the laws of nature and everything we know and everything we can do notwithstanding-stop assuming that God is still the subject of history, acting in history; when we transform God into an indeterminate horizon, which somehow solemnly makes up the whole: then we are the only ones left to act. Then the entire burden of good and of evil rests exclusively on us. That is when moralism-the placement of the moral demands on men and women-takes on a form that cannot but overwhelm us, which we ascribe to God and against which we rebel...This is why it seems so important to me to hear once again that God [Himself] addresses us and says: 'Your sins are forgiven.' To hear that there really is something that we call grace. And at this point there are good reasons for us to listen to Luther: Not only are there demands being made on me and my actions, and not only demands on humanity or any subject whatever; but rather, before anything else there is an action on God's part and it can transform me...I am always moved by this wonderful saying of Origen's: God cannot suffer, but God can suffer-with. Yet is it not also a part of the memory of suffering that we recognize the God who suffers-with: a God whom we cannot systematize but who nonetheless is moving us in the depths of our hearts? If it is only unresolved suffering that we perceive, then the only thing left is a cry of anger and despair in one's own existence. The only reason we can expose ourselves to being aware of suffering at all is that, in all suffering, one who suffers-with is present."


FrEdBakker said...

Dear + David,
Having had and still having such a close association with Australia, I have Australian and New Zealand citizenship, my heart is very much with all those effected by the Victorian bushfires. Having a daughter in Melbourne, made me also realize, especially in times like these, how we miss each other. I want to thank for this article, but also for pointing to the blog of Mark Connor of the Melbourne City Life Church, as you know members of my family as members of this Church and I have attended services there myself and know Mark Connor. I am glad that this country of New Zealand has sent fire fighters and police personnel across. My prayers for all those effected continue and for all those who risk their lives to help others.

Yours in Christ,
Revd Deacon Ed Bakker.SSM
Traditional Anglican Communion in New Zealand

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