A sermon preached
The second in a Sunday evening
Reading: Luke 11:5-13, Romans 8:28-39
The second of our short series on creation:
“Disaster, Prayer and Providence -
Does God interfere in the world he has created?”
Does God intervene in the world he created?
Is he in some sense like a puppet master,
pulling the strings of his creatures on the stage of creation –
to ensure the providential care of his people,
to reward their faithfulness,
to chastise their unfaithfulness,
to respond to their prayers?
Certainly this is the theology underlying much of Scripture –
Time and again God intervenes as an independent cause –
· To slaughter the first born of Egypt
· To harden the heart of Pharaoh
· To part the Red Sea
· To knock down the walls of Jericho…..
To send the Babylonians to punish Israel for
And our NT reading from Luke 11
would seem to imply that this is how God works –
Lk 11:9 “Ask and it shall be given unto you” -
which is often interpreted to mean:
when you have a problem, appeal to God
who will pull the strings or manipulate the world
to keep you safe.
In every age there are countless examples
of Christian belief in this sort of direct intervention by God –
either to protect the needy and vulnerable,
particularly the faithful needy and vulnerable –
or to chastise those who deny God’s will
Only last week the American Tele-evangelist Pat
stated that Hurricane Katrina was a direct act of God
in reprisal for the Emmy Awards being hosted by a Lesbian.
At the close of the Falklands War
Margaret Thatcher famously wanted to thank God
for giving victory
When York Minster was struck by lightning,
people saw the fire as retribution
for the appointment of David Jenkins
And at a more personal level,
millions of prayers go up asking that God will give me this job,
let me pass that exam, that I will get well again, etc etc etc….
And – you may say –
if we don’t believe in that sort of God – a God who intervenes –
we are left with an absentee landlord God,
who made the world and then went away….
And that is not the God we know.
But exactly how is God involved in the world?
There are of course huge problems here –
problems which we often overlook as Christians.
I read in the paper last week that
thousands of Englishmen were “praying for rain” –
in order to shorten the last Test Match
and ensure the draw which would give the Ashes to England.
Did he send the rain that marred one day’s play?
And if so, what about Australian prayers for sunshine?
And if that is a flippant example,
what about the person giving an interview after a plane crash saying
“I prayed to God to save me and thank God I survived”
But half the people in the plane died –
where was God for them?
There are millions of heartbreaking occasions
when God’s intervention is invoked –
“Lord save him, Lord bring her back to me,
Lord may he not die, Lord may we win the battle,
may I pass the exam… …”
But if this is really how God works
(intervening to correct the imbalances of society,
to reward the faithful,
and to protect the poor and the vulnerable –
Why then did God allow
Auschwitz and Hiroshima and Cambodia and Rwanda?
If this is how he works,
how did he manage not to work like this then?
Were our prayers for these things more deficient –
surely God did not want these people to suffer?
Why are the stories of the
Saints filled with
often quite small and localised miraculous interventions by God –
and yet this same God chooses not to intervene directly
when world war, epidemic and calamity strike?
If I pray to God that I want to get a new job
or pass my exam,
do I expect him to do this for me –
but ignore the anguished prayers of the death camps???
And if prayers invoke God’s direct involvement
as a sole cause in making sure that
someone lives or dies or a battle is won or lost,
then what does that do to our understanding of
free will and human responsibility?
All of which may lead some of us to look
for ways to reinterpret Biblical language
about God’s activity in a different way.
This is a huge subject,
and I can hardly scratch the surface here –
so what I am going to offer
is not a watertight philosophical argument –
(If you want a short but readable introduction
you might try a book like
Maurice Wiles’ “God’s Action in the World”) –
but rather a few starting points for further thought.
God does act in his world –
but he acts through us –
we are his hands and feet
We all know that King Solomon built a temple –
though of course in a real sense he didn’t -
stonemasons built the temple – stonemasons who,
for a variety of noble and sometimes less than noble reasons
aligned themselves with the will and purpose of King Solomon.
So God’s will is done on earth.
When we pray each week
“Give us this day our daily bread”
we are not praying that God will bring manna each day
and put the bakers out of business.
We are praying (figuratively)
that we as a human race may so align ourselves with God’s will
that bread will be in the stomachs of all.
Who heals you in hospital –
is it God or is it the surgeon?
It is a false distinction
when God uses the surgeon as his instrument of healing.
Someone comes up and congratulates me on some
something in which they have supported and encouraged me.
And I say “Thanks – it was all your doing”.
And in a real sense I mean it –
it was because they were there for me and directed my energies
that I persevered - and without you it just wouldn’t have happened –
but though I say “It was all your doing”
what I actually mean is “you enabled me to do it”
So maybe God acts in the world –
being there for us – inspiring – encouraging –
giving us the wisdom and insight –
so that the miracle is this –
not that God intervenes as a sole cause in the world,
but that he enables me to be his agent
Of course we are terribly fallible –
and we make many mistakes –
as hands of God we are clumsy and often misguided.
But God sticks with us
like a parent playing catch with a erratic toddler –
always managing to retrieve the ball
and keep the game alive –
Or as someone has suggested –
God is like a master craftsman making a Persian Rug.
At one end of the rug a novice weaver works and makes many errors –
at the other end God weaves his end –
always managing to incorporate the erratic work
into the evolving pattern,
so that the result is finally pleasing and complete.
(see Maurice Wiles, “God’s Action in the World” p 55).
God has given us power and freedom in creation
a power and freedom which we use
at best erratically and at worst sinfully.
He hasn’t made us puppets
pre-programmed to do good or ill –
we are human.
And yet he stays with us –
He plays with us
He weaves with us
He encourages us
He gives us his vision and his challenge.
when that is what it takes,
he suffers and dies with us.
So let’s thank God
for the miracle of his presence with us in Christ –
Let’s pray that he may act through us
and so his will may be done
And when finally we reach the throne of grace
and show God the knotted fabric which we have woven,
maybe our Heavenly Father will kindly point out
the beginnings of harmony amidst the mess we have made –
And may we say to God
“No Lord - it was all your doing”