I have woken up to the appalling news of the attacks in Paris, at the Bataclan concert hall, at the Stade de France and at restaurants in the city. There will be plenty said about this, as there was about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Francois Hollande this morning spoke with care and passion about his country and its response and I was moved by what he said. The strength of the republic is its commitment to the ideals of the revolution, and it is a country whose importance to us as British subjects (not citizens, remember!) is enduring. It represents something good and something to be emulated in many ways.
So whilst trawling through the many accounts online of what has happened so far, I have begun also to think about the men who would destroy it with their silly guns and ridiculous bombs, and who have caused a great hole in the heart of Paris to appear that will undoubtedly take years to heal. I wonder that these men could so believe in a view of God that killing other people in his name would actually please him. Do they imagine, in their depraved minds, that God will reward them for each person shot, maimed or destroyed, and that the fact that they blew their earthly body to bits when a French special forces policeman aimed his gun at them somehow appears in the credit column of their sick theology? I fear they are in for a shock.
We are a school that centres our life in a particular view of what God is like, as revealed through Jesus Christ, whose name adorns our school. It therefore falls to me to articulate what God is like, because there is a direct link between how we view Jesus Christ as God and my actions and conduct as a leader and envisioner of our school. This is really important. How we view God is possibly the most important psychological decision we ever make. It determines a lot of key issues:
- Whether we think he (or she) exists or not.
- Whether he (or she) can be expected to want to have a relationship with me.
- Whether he made me and if so, what for.
- What sort of things I might do to please him.
- How I might demonstrate love, loyalty and obedience to him.
- How I treat other people in a way that makes him happy.
- Whether he wants to hurt me if I disobey him, and how much.
- What happens at the end, when I die, and whether that will be a happy or an unhappy experience.
- Whether I have any reason for hope, or whether fatalism is a better option.
- Whether there is ever any hope for justice and whether I have to take that into my own hands or leave it to someone else.
- Whether I need to take care of anything or anybody, or just live for myself.
- Whether there is any need to look after the poor and the disadvantaged.
- What I should do with my science and art.
- Whether we see God as big and infinite, or tiny and manageable.
There are hundreds of things that it determines. Everyone worships or follows somebody or something, and everyone wants to please someone or something.
Your view of God is your theology. Everyone has one, and those who call themselves atheists usually have one that is not particularly pleasant. Dawkins’ The God Delusion is a poor book simply because it takes such a dim view of God without ever allowing the questions of whether God believes in Dawkins or not (he does, by the way).
For us at Christ the Sower, we stake our understanding of God as one who is wholly benevolent towards all, wholly personal and personally known, not some vague spirit in the sky, who has walked with us, feels with us, understands us and who suffered and died for us, enduring the worst that could (at that time in history) be imagined. Even today when we hear of IS terrorists crucifying Christians, we are sickened at its barbarity. This is the God who tenderly walks with us and whose strength and power, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus, inaugurated a wonderful new kingdom whose reign will have no end. Because of this, we must be open handed to all, hospitable to all, merciful to all. The way of life has to be the way of the Cross, not the way of the kalashnikov.
Killing people for religious reasons is common to all faiths. Christians who burn orthodox crosses on the scalps of Bosnian Muslims have exactly the same view of God as the deluded ones who blew themselves up in a French theatre last night. They have made God in their own image, and made him theirs, belonging to their tribe. They try to own God and therefore find it easy to kill those whose God he no longer is, apparently. A tribal God is no god at all. Our God is a great God, the Lord of all the earth, but he is not ours in the sense of “not yours”. We stand in awe before his might, his intelligence and wisdom and love, and seek to serve him. Who we see God to be determines not our religion but how we use that religion to treat others and ourselves.
This is why it is so critical that for Christians we are taught, we sing, we celebrate, we meditate, we study the fact that we are beloved. That the King has affection and love for us, and whose grace covers all our sins. That we were created on a good earth for a good purpose by a good and affectionate Father, who calls us everyday closer and closer to him.
If we got that, throbbing through our bodies, we would stand, we would walk justly, kindly and mercifully, without weapons.
Which God you choose to worship will determine your actions.