(Begins with a monologue from the beginning of “Love Actually”)
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love.
If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around”.
Some of the most rewarding conversations I’ve had about faith have happened when people discovered that the GOD they don’t believe in, is the same GOD that I don’t believe in either!
I guess you know the one I mean:
*the kind of ‘up there in the sky’ GOD: remote from human experience, but at the same time manipulating our lives.
*or the one who permits wars and disasters to happen to some people, and finds carparks for others.
*or the one we’ve turned into a kind of Santa Claus, that knows whether we’ve been naughty or nice and punishes or rewards us accordingly.
*or the one that, according to some Christian leaders in the USA this last week, lets mad people go on shooting rampages in kindergartens and schools, to teach the country a lesson about gay marriage!
Where the conversations get really interesting is where we start talking about the GOD we DO believe in, and begin to name thoughts, ideas and experiences about GOD in altogether different ways.
Because, despite the fact that I don’t believe in GOD in the ways I mentioned before, I believe in GOD: the GOD of Jesus Christ.
Despite the fact that I don’t believe many of the things I believed about GOD when I was younger, I believe in GOD, and my faith is stronger than before. And for this, I give thanks!
Occasionally, the words “I believe in GOD” are the only words I can say with any integrity, and usually that’s enough.
In those moments, I often find it helpful to sit not only with my experiences, but with my ‘Desert Island Scriptures’. (The scriptural equivalent of desert island disks). There are four of them. There’s many others too, but these are the ones without which my faith would wither and die.
As I look at them I realise that all of them are about love one way or another.
In Exodus chapter 3 there is the story of Moses encountering the mystery of GOD, in that dramatic meeting at the burning bush. This is for me one of the great dramas of the Hebrew Scriptures, where Moses discovers at once both the incomprehensibility and the intimacy of GOD. He is commanded to take off his shoes to experience the holiness of the place and moment. And then Moses receives his vision of GOD”S calling: a vision of GOD’s love for the people enduring slavery in Egypt. Moses tries to pin down the name of GOD, but has to be satisfied with discovering the character instead: compassion for those who suffer. This is a story of enormous power within the stories of Israel, the beginning of the pivotal moment in the people’s history. The way the story tells it, it begins in the love of GOD.
My second scripture is found in Mark chapter 15, with the story of Jesus’ execution. While there’s much within the story that demands attention, the verse with particular significance for me is 15:38. Here it says that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was torn in two.
Like any good storyteller, Mark is out to make a point here, and the point is this: In that moment we see in that GOD is revealed to be not behind a curtain in a supposedly sacred place, but out there on the cross with the naked man who preached and showed love, the man killed because he challenged the way things were.
And then at the end of Romans chapter 8, there is that section of the letter where Paul wrestles with the various hardships that people endure in life. “Can anything separate us from the love of GOD in Christ Jesus?“.
Remember that in his day there was a very strong cause and effect understanding of GOD’s favour or otherwise; one was considered blessed or cursed by GOD, depending on how things were going.
This is quite a radical conversation for Paul to be having at all, let alone to assert as he does that the circumstances in life are NOT signs of GOD’S pleasure or displeasure with an individual or group.
Can any of our hardships separate us from the love of God that we see Jesus? Asks Paul, and his answer is a categorical “no”. There is nothing in all creation that can do that.
My last scripture is perhaps no surprise: 1 Corinthians 13. Yes it’s the wedding reading, but that’s not why it’s so central to the way I relate to GOD.. It’s important that it spells out some of the characteristics of love, but that’s only part of the story… That’s the buildup to the wonderful statement at the end.
Here Paul talks about the fact that what we know is temporary and what we experience as human beings is limited. He has that wonderful image of “seeing in a mirror darkly”, compared to the truth that unfolds before us when our life is completed.
And so there’s much that we are unable to grasp about the value and the meaning and purpose of life. But this we do know, he says, in the meantime while we live there are faith hope and love: and the greatest of these is love.
These four readings, or rather the notions of life and love they contain, have become the heart and soul of my faith.
If I understand anything about GOD, it is that love is not what God does.
Love is what GOD is.
We use the phrase from 1 John that says “GOD is love”. Equally we can say “Love is GOD” And for me, it’s this that takes me closer and more deeply into experience of GOD than many of the doctrinal formulae that people like to use.
It’s this that we see in the way of Jesus.
It’s this that we try to live each day, some days more successfully than others, some days more courageously than others.
And ultimately, I dare to believe that when we see love, we see GOD made present and real: that love, actually IS all around…
My Desert Island Disks, by the way, would feature large doses of Pink Floyd, U2, and Paul Kelly!