Before the corona virus took hold I was scheduled to preach on John chapter 9. The chapter tells the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”. To my mind this question is very close to a question that is often asked, “Why do bad things happen in the world?”. The answer, of course, is that we don’t know why bad things happen. I can’t bring myself to believe in a god that would deliberately cause bad things to happen. Our God is a God of love. A God who created the universe purely for love. The three persons of the trinity so in love with each other, with so much love that they had to create the universe as an outlet for all that love. God created you and I so that he could love us. And as John tells us in chapter three of his gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. Jesus died the most painful and ignominious death because he loves you and me. How can such a loving God be a God who makes bad things happen.
And so I don’t know why bad things happen, but I know that they always have, and they always will until Jesus comes again in glory. So where is God in all these bad things that happen.?Where is God in 9/11, where is God in 7/7, where is God in the Boxing Day tsunami, where is God when the Grenfell Tower caught fire, where is God when I was diagnosed with cancer? Perhaps when we see these bad things happening in the world and, indeed, in our own lives we look for God in the wrong place. A bit like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13. God was not in the wind, God was not in the earthquake, God was not in the fire. But then there was the gentle whisper that was God speaking to Elijah. We shouldn’t look for God in the bad things, we should wait for God to come afterwards. God is present in the response to whatever has happened. God is right there with the emergency services when they respond to disasters, God is there with the community when they rally round to give support after tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire or, a little closer to home, the recent fire at the Beechmere retirement complex near to my own home in Crewe. God was with the team at The Christie Hospital who treated me for my cancer. God was among my family, my church family and my friends who helped me when I was diagnosed and when I received treatment.
So, as we face this frightening corona virus pandemic we should look for God in the response rather than in the pandemic. Every day we are seeing small acts of kindness happening as communities start to pull together to help their most vulnerable members. Those who are sick or who are self-isolating because they are in at risk categories are being helped by those around them. Fetching some shopping perhaps is the most common thing I’ve seen or perhaps just making a friendly phone call to those who live alone and are truly isolated. That is where we can see God’s love in action. And it is an action that maybe we can all take part in. It might not make you a millionaire, but now is a good time to phone a friend who lives alone just to let them know that you’re there and you care for them.
I’m sure that, like me, most people are worried to some extent about what the effects of this corona virus will be. As we go about our daily lives, either in isolation or possibly running around between supermarkets trying to find one that has loo rolls and dried pasta on the shelves, we need to make sure that we make time to spend with God. We need to listen carefully for him speaking to us, just as Elijah had to strain his ears to listen to God whispering. We need to listen to God when we read the scriptures, when we say our prayers. We need to listen to God when he speaks to us through our friends and neighbours. My spiritual director is a great fan of the French monk known as Brother Lawrence. He had a series of “conversations” which were written down by a French gentleman by the name of Monsieur Beaufort. In these conversations Brother Lawrence tells us that he feels as close to God amongst the pots and pans of the monastery kitchen where he was employed as he did during prayers in the chapel. During this time of privation when we are unable to gather together to share the Lord’s Supper it is, I hope, an opportunity for us to discover more of our own individual relationship with God. A time when we can find ourselves as close to God amongst the pots and pans of our own back scullery as we do when we encounter him in the eucharist. I know from my own experience of life that the trials and tribulations that come our way can often bring us into closer communion with Jesus than we normally enjoy. I hope that we can all take this opportunity to draw closer to him. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we really could set our hearts on fire with love for him. Why shouldn’t we love Our Lord with all the passion and fervour that, perhaps, we felt when we fell in love for the first time with a girl or a boy (delete as appropriate)?
The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Nobody sinned, the man did not deserve to be made blind. i don’t know why he was blind. But look what a loving response he received from Jesus. He had his sight given to him. When bad things happen we should look for God in the response and we should love him back with every ounce of our strength.
The great sufi master Hafiz wrote:-
God and I are like two giant fat people living in a tiny boat.
We keep bumping into each other and laughing.
What a wonderful loving relationship that would be if we could ever draw that close to God.
A prayer from Bishop Angelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
LORD, bless those who are in need of your support.
Guide those who are in need of your wisdom.
Empower those who are in need of your strength and
above all, be light and joy to those who are in need
of that reassurance on a daily basis.
Glory be to God forever.