Menu Close
30th January 2022

I’ve Got the Power

Passage: Jeremiah 1;3-9


So: Matthew has been baptised, welcomed into the Christian church and we have asked God to bless and keep him. What happens now?
Our Bible reading was about a young man who heard God telling him that He (God) had known him (Jeremiah) since before he was born. As Christians, we believe that God is involved in our lives right from the start and will be with us to the end and beyond.

OK- what does this mean? Does it mean that a life in which God is involved will be totally trouble-free? Unfortunately, no. It certainly was not for Jeremiah. He lived through a period of political decadence and corruption; an enemy invasion; saw his country destroyed and was then forced to live exiled in enemy territory. Not an easy life. Is there anyone in church today who can honestly say that their life has been all sweetness and light? No.

Right. So does God’s involvement mean that, although we may still have to face difficult times, we shall rise above them, always confident, smiling bravely, totally committed to what is right? No. That did not work for Jeremiah either. His book is one of the most deeply personal in our whole Bible. He pours out the anguish in his soul. Having been brought up highly religious, he went through hell. No-one was listening to him; his country was going to the dogs, and no-one cared; he could see nothing worth hoping for on the horizon and where was God when you needed him? Guilt, despair, self-doubt- all the mental traumas we hear about nowadays were afflicting Jeremiah long before they were “discovered.”

But where does this leave us? If faith in God does not guarantee a life free from trouble or a life in which we are able to rise confidently above trouble- what is the point? I mean, why bother?

As human beings, our problem-solving mentality means that we like to feel we are in control. If there is a problem we should be able to work out where the problem comes from and how to make it go away. And that is awesome. We are incredible creatures. I remember those schoolboys trapped underground in Thailand and the seemingly impossible task of getting them out. And the thought processes and the skills and the strength combining to achieve that rescue made me so proud of being human. Think of cures for deadly diseases such as smallpox and leprosy; the measures worked out and proposed for saving our planet from destruction; the medical progress in getting the better of Covid- we are amazing, problem-solving creatures.

I guess it is not surprising that organised religion has tried to take the same approach: you have a difficult question about God: we have the answer; you are struggling to cope with life: we can tell you how to make it work; you are upset by bad stuff going on in the world: we are a community where you will find only goodness. And this mentality has been the root of what has become seriously bad in church history. The urgency to pin God down to a set of statements which cannot be argued with has led to divisions, persecutions, even wars. The desire for straightforward answers to complex questions about life has led to appalling suggestions by religious leaders such as, God must have a good reason for striking down your child with cancer and you just cannot see that reason yet. Or, you are living in poverty, asking why some are rich and others poor? Listen to the hymn “All things bright and beautiful”- the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate/ God made them high or lowly and ordered their estate.” (We don’t sing that verse anymore). The urge to create a faith community separated off from the rest of the world has brought about dangerous cults, the vast wealth of the Vatican, which is causing our present Pope a lot of embarrassment; and the justification of religious acts of terrorism: scour the world for God!

Science has acquired a certain degree of humility, especially since the discovery of quantum physics in the twentieth century. Yes, we are problem-solving creatures, but some problems are acknowledged to be far more complex than others and may never have predictable solutions. And yes, there will be some questions about life and human nature that science will never be able to answer.

Maybe it is time for religion to accept that same level of humility. There will be questions about the nature of God and the nature of life that we shall never be able to answer. There will be elements of ourselves that we shall never be able to understand or entirely get the better of. We only have to look at the life of Jesus Christ to see the kind of issues he had to wrestle with- a seriously disadvantaged life, a ministry among people badly damaged and confused both by their political situation and by their religion, a persistent inner pressure to give in to the temptation to be what people wanted him to be rather than what he was; confrontation with the worst forms of evil: corruption, cruelty, injustice, betrayal, rejection and finally crucifixion. If he was God-the-problem-fixer, then he did not do a very good job.

But what he did do was to get right down into the places where the unanswerable questions are posed; where the deepest mysteries have to be confronted, where the chaos and the unknown have to be lived with. And, as St John, put it, he was the light to be light to every single person; that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not put it out. Maybe life is not so much, after all, about problems and solutions as about situations which we are called to live through, not in anger and fear and frustration and self-hatred- why is this happening- but in the light of Christ which will lead us through to something better? Jesus went through every kind of hell, yet came back in resurrection, a resurrection of life and of forgiveness that would never end, meaning that while none of us know what we will have to face in in life or ourselves, there is no place so dark that the light and life of God can be extinguished.

Matthew has been baptised, welcomed into the Christian church and we have asked God to bless and keep him. What happens now?
We don’t know. We hope and we pray that he will have a happy life; that he will love and be loved; that he will find a path in life and work which he enjoys; that he will be brave, bold and strong (as the song said). But the promise which is held out to him in baptism and in his growing up in faith is that whatever happens, God will be with him. And while God walks with him and he with God, there will be no dead-ends, no unforgivable mistakes, no non-renewable destruction, no total isolation. Only a moving forward into greater light.

Jeremiah went through all kinds of hell and yet he got to the point where wrote down this famous message: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to give you hope and a future.” The nation must live through a time in exile; they are encouraged to make the best of it; settle down, create homes, live at peace with their new neighbours because one day they will go back home.” Jeremiah had discovered the power of God inside him; the power of hope and of compassion: compassion for his people; compassion for those he had thought of as his enemies, compassion even for himself. He had learned what God was really like. He had looked right into the face of God and with the hope and compassion he found there, he could go on living and preach an authentic message to his people.

And so may our prayer for Matthew, more than any other be that he will have those Epiphany moments in his life when he realises “I’ve got the power.” I am not afraid. I am not dismayed because the Lord my God is with me.

RESPONSIVE READING: 1 Corinthians 13- sums up what Paul had learned God to be and what life at its very heart should be.