It’s been great to get a break over Christmas, but it’s a new year and I’m restless again. It’s time to decide what’s most important and try to retain that focus this year.
At a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve I picked up an apologetics book. I flicked through a few pages, but it didn’t engage me. I read lots of those books as a teenager and student, trying to build confidence in the robustness of my faith. They can be helpful in pointing out the historic credibility of the gospel accounts and pointing out the failure to find any other reasonable explanation for the resurrection than… the resurrection. But you can’t ultimately prove or disprove God. People will find arguments and evidence whichever side they fall on.
I did a lot of theoretical and theological wrestling after my son Ben died in 2011 from a brain tumour. My God Will Save The Day theology was blown out of the water, but in some ways surprisingly, my faith wasn’t. A key point in the account of Ben’s death and what followed, which I’ve been working on, was that the question of God’s existence is not an abstract, philosophical question when you’re trying to survive. I needed something and God, it turned out, was still around to meet me in my need.
Initially, this was through the extraordinary amount of prayers and practical kindness my family received. We were carried by faithful friendships, and our fragility was understood by the Church; there was support and space to reflect and rebuild. More than ever, I saw the hope and help we needed through the grace of a God I no longer pretended I could fully understand, but who promised He would be with us.
So I’m not interested in trying to win the argument and I’ve had to accept a less tidy, more real theology. What I want is a faith that sheds light into the world I face.
The assumption of today’s culture is that God either doesn’t exist or is just a maker on the periphery. The values of our age are about things like control and independence. These are used unquestioningly and underpin our politics and education. Life, it would seem, is about equipping people to get what they want, which is another way of saying “material comfort and security”. What is the outcome of a society based on these values?
Stress. Can you find a better word to define life today? Life is ever more frenetic and insecure, the pace and pressure ever increasing. Our education system is built on a pyramid of pressure, from the government to Ofsted, to heads, to teachers and pupils: pressure to perform is the currency, so staff burn out and children learn in a pressure-cooker. Our children then enter the world of work, trying to impress to get a job, and then meeting ever-rising expectations within an ever-more-uncertain climate.
I think there has to be something better than this: a life of managing stress until the weekend, the holidays and retirement. I think the ugly “survival of the fittest” that triumphant atheists lead us to is not the future that I want for my oldest child.
I need something more and I find it in the promised grace of the gospel. I find it in Jesus, who says: “Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:29).
I want to be part of a Church that offers out this hope, rather than just being a place we escape to on a Sunday to get a breather. It’s about practical action, it’s about lifestyle and for me, about exploring how faith can transform the landscape we find ourselves in.
That’s what I’ll be mulling on this year. What about you?