“I have seen God in a man!” – words famously spoken by a notable sceptic after he had attended a service at the small church in France where Jean Vianney was ministering. Saint Jean Vianney, perhaps better known as the Cure d’Ars, was a simple chap who struggled to become a priest and was sent to the remotest corner of the diocese where he might labour for the ‘unsophisticated country folk’. What Jean maybe lacked in intellect he made up for with a ferocious personal devotion to God, an intense prayer life, and utterly selfless availability for his congregation, to the point where it was the rest of France that flocked to see him.
“I have seen God in a man!” sums up for me the way in which God may intervene in human life. If God seems to stand back to the point where people sincerely question whether He exists at all, this is not because He doesn’t care about us – rather it is the price of His love that absolutely respects our free will. He will never manipulate us or pull our strings – period. The one opportunity He ever gets is when a person consciously and freely allows Him to use them, their hands, their heart, their physical presence. This isn’t easy for us but then miracles can happen…
The young child dying from terminal cancer;
The innocent victim of a gangland shoot out;
Thousands homeless through vicious conflicts;
Multitudes starving after prolonged drought.
Human suffering, personal and collective;
Much caused by wanton harm and greed,
But much also caused by ‘natural forces’:
Where is God when His children bleed?
The all-powerful, all-loving One seems gone…
His mighty deeds are confusing stories,
Written by ancients in even more ancient
Texts – propagandising His PR glories.
If I speak to you of an ‘unmighty god’,
And talk of a deity who’s ‘shackled’;
His place in our lives and very relevance,
Are subjects which should be tackled.
On the cold plaster of the gas chamber,
A dying hand had bravely scrawled:
“There is no God”, and no rescue either,
From the horrors within those walls.
“If you who are human can give your child,
How much more will the Father provide?”
Surely there was the occasion to act?
To render harmless the deadly cyanide?
But God’s hands are tied behind His back;
In this world He must step aside and wait,
Agonising as His children cry out to Him,
Mute to the charges: too little, too late!
All our suffering pierces that great heart,
This perfect lover endures perfect pain;
He may seem distant but indwells us,
Crucified again and again and again.
If God can only compassionate us,
Are we then left to sink or swim?
Revelation, Spirit, Church are given,
But the track record isn’t encouraging.
Disunity, infighting and outfighting;
Fatwas, creationism, and papal bull;
Absolute rulers and rules for the boys;
Abusers protected by the infallible…
God’s ways are high above our ways:
God sees the longer view: eternity…..
Do we then have to endure our cross?
To be somehow ‘purified’ by adversity?
All will be well and light at tunnel’s end,
Heaven for the noble souls who pray;
Delayed heaven too for those who don’t?
God will sort it out, come what may?
Does God intervene in the tunnel’s dark?
Can His power touch our lives today?
Can we see His light to guide us,
Or only by faith that we feel our way?
I tell you friend that God is desperate
To work miracles of power and grace,
But needs our free and conscious choice
To be His presence and take His place.
This is no trite and naive submission:
No half-hearted prayers or practice,
Will allow God to work His wonders;
He will not overpower our artifice.
To say ‘Jesus is Lord!” is no easy thing:
Lord means Lord and nothing less,
Radical conversion, prayer and fasting,
The tools to transform our selfishness.
Humanity is blest with much goodness;
We don’t need faith to love our neighbour,
But to the charge that God is absent,
We who believe should look to our behaviour.
The Spirit has been given in fulness,
God so depends on us to cooperate;
You and I have the sublime privilege
To be Christ, that He might incarnate.