. . . Joy, Hope & life.
How commonly the distant, disinterested father somehow unconsciously imprints upon us a similar picture of God. How distressing for us. How distressing for God. Especially in this broken world where pain and loss of meaning seem to compose so much of our lot. He knows that we need to know that we matter.
Yesterday I also watched a chat by Rev Andrew White, the "Vicar of Baghdad". He mentioned a time when ISIS came to one of his Arab Christian congregants and told him they would kill his children if he did not renounce Christ and repeat the Shahada. To the man's grief he felt he had to do so in order to save his children (alas study of the bitter realities of such situations leads me to the conclusion that doing such a thing is never a useful expedient or the lesser of two evils) - he thought they were all free.
However the next day ISIS found his 5 children and directed them to renounce Christ or die. But the children said that they loved Jesus, that they talked to him and he talked to them and that they would not renounce him. So the jihadis did what they have so often done throughout history. Based on the Sunna of the prophet, they killed the children and cut off their heads. Knowing they were about to die the children sang one of the only English language songs they'd been taught, Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Then they were cut down.
Was God occupied elsewhere?
A short time later Rev White states that two of the other children he had pastoral care for both had a dream the same night where they saw the children dancing with Jesus in heaven. Dancing! No, God was not occupied elsewhere.
One of the daily emails that lands in my inbox is from a group started by the late Chuck Colson, one of President Nixon's corrupt cohorts in the Watergate affair who famously came to Christ before being sentenced to prison for his part in the scandal. Recently they wrote:
Chuck Colson and his friend Richard John Neuhaus used to remind people that despair is a sin. Now if you define “despair” as extreme sorrow or grief, then calling it a sin seems cruel and unfeeling.
But that’s not really what despair is. In the Christian view, despair is the opposite of hope. Thomas Aquinas wrote that despair “is due to a man’s failure to hope that he will share in the goodness of God.” For Aquinas, despair was more dangerous than even unbelief or hatred of God because “by hope we are called back from evils and induced to strive for what is good, and if hope is lost, men fall headlong into vices, and are taken away from good works.”
For Aquinas, “nothing is more execrable than despair. For he who despairs loses his constancy in the daily labours of this life, and what is worse, loses his constancy in the endeavour of faith.” As the sixth-century theologian Isidore of Seville put it, “to commit a crime is death to the soul; but to despair is to descend into hell.”
There is one Christmas carol that always touches me. It is God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen, and it is because of these lines:
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
There are some Christian songs the words of which I cannot sing because they are too raw for me and the words above always have this affect on me. I can't repeat them as I sing the carol, neither can I read them without tearing up. Because I remember too well going astray and being in Satan's power - the horror of it, the agony of it, the despair of it. I also remember receiving the Word of Life into the centre of my being and finding him to be true and powerful. How he fought for me and freed me from that wretched state.
And now I have these "tidings of comfort and joy" for everyone who, as I was, is held fast in the merciless fist of an enemy too strong for them. There is real hope in the living God. So remember the five children, hold fast, there's a bright morning ahead. Do not give in to dismay or despair. Our God is with us and he is keenly interested in our predicament. Talk to him about it. He is not occupied elsewhere.
To modify the the words of King Theoden at his death, where he had looked forward to joining his fathers, we can now say:
I go to my five small brothers and sisters from Baghdad,
in whose mighty company
I shall not now feel ashamed.
We will yet dance.