Blaming God

Does God ever chuckle at our extraordinary ideas about him? Recently, I received the nth email in which ‘your god’ was blamed for just about everything, from sexual abuse of children to train crashes, acne and the writer’s apparently disastrous love life. (Possibly the acne and the latter were connected, but a suggestion that he visit a pharmacist wasn’t going to endear me, was it?)

I do wonder, sometimes, why people think God is responsible for everything they do not like or find difficult, but never, apparently, for those things they find good or beautiful. Perhaps it is because we perceive certain events to be tragedies and we want someone to blame, someone to pay for them, more than we want someone to thank or praise for what is good. Not all tragedies can be blamed on human beings, so if there is no-one else we can reasonably pin responsibility on, we accuse God. Religious people do this in one way; those who are hostile to religion do it in another; the net result is the same: God comes in for some pretty rough treatment.

Probably some readers will find this idea shocking. They would never, ever blame God for anything and always resign themselves utterly to the divine will. Such people are almost beyond sanctity, for very few of the saints were so restrained. They told God exactly what they thought while they obediently got on with whatever was required. The great Carmelite, St Teresa of Avila, is an excellent example of this, shrewdly remarking to the Lord that it was no wonder he had so few friends since he treated them so badly. That is not the same as blaming God, for she never insulted him or reviled him. She simply spoke her mind with infinite trust and confidence in God’s goodness and love.

I think a little more honesty with God about our feelings and reactions to events might be a good thing. A little more trust in God might be a good thing, too. Blame is pointless. God does not will harm to anyone. It is contrary to his nature as God. But, continuing this week’s theme of dipping into the dictionary, you may find something to ponder in this thought. The word ‘blame’ derives from a popular variant of the Latin blasphemare and Greek blasphemein, meaning to revile, reproach . . . blaspheme. So, when we blame someone for something for which they are not responsible, we are blaspheming God. That might just make us think before we utter.

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Thinking Aloud about Society

Yesterday, as our Silence Days were coming to an end, three subjects dominated British media headlines: George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, the prospect of public sector strikes today and the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran. Only time will tell which will have the most lasting effects on society. I am probably in a minority in thinking that the attack on the embassy could have the most disastrous long-term consequences, not just for Britain but for the west in general. Why? Because I think that, irrespective of what the Chancellor does or does not do, we are in for a prolonged period of economic stringency, which no amount of striking is going to change. The attack on the embassy, however, and the anger which fed it mark a departure from the standard of behaviour and practice on which modern diplomacy relies; and if it be true, as many suppose, that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, that anger and that refusal to observe diplomatic conventions is troubling. Those old enough to remember the Cold War will recall what it was  like to live with the ever-present idea of nuclear annihilation. Does that shadow begin to loom over us again, and if it does, how do we reconcile it with what Advent is about?

The only way in which I can begin to answer that question for myself is to say that it is bound up with trust. Advent reminds us of the trust God placed in his Chosen People. Despite the misunderstandings and the backslidings, the Covenant remained firm and the promise of a Messiah was indeed fulfilled in Jesus. But if God’s trust in humanity remained unshaken, how much more was human trust in God tested to the uttermost? Mary’s acceptance of her role as Mother of God expressed an unequalled  faith in God, a faith that we can only marvel at and be grateful for. The present situation also calls for trust and faith. That is something we all need to work at this Advent.

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Patience

Patience is often described as the Benedictine’s fourth vow. It is a theme that occurs again and again in the Rule, where we are reminded that we ‘share by patience in the sufferings of Christ’. (RB Prol. 50) The newcomer to monastic life is to be ‘tested in all patience’.  (RB 58.11) Indeed, patiently bearing with delays and contradictions is one of the signs looked for as the mark of a genuine vocation. It all sounds rather wonderful until one has to practise it. For the plain truth is that patience is hard work. It means embracing suffering, not just stoically putting up with it, and doing so with a quiet heart. (RB 7. 35) Patience requires a great deal of trust and humility as well as self-control.

Patience, trust, humility: these are not qualities that our society cultivates or values very much. We prefer to be self-assertive, thrusting not trusting, testing everything by our own standards and rather despising those who are patient and humble, as thought they were milksops. In fact, it takes real strength of character to be patient, to accept adversity quietly, without anger or upset. Similarly, trust and humility are not for wimps but for those who are brave enough to look themselves in the face and know themselves for what they are.

Today each one of us will be given the opportunity to exercise a little patience, to show a little trust and be a little humble. Are we big enough to meet the challenge?

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Thinking Aloud About Trust

I didn’t know Osama bin Laden had been killed until I returned to Britain on Wednesday last week. Immediately, it seemed, the world was abuzz with claim and counterclaim about what actually happened. Whose account should we trust? Whose account COULD we trust? At the same time, the endless rumble about ‘the financial services industry’ (banks to you and me) continues to raise questions about trust; so too does the debate about the limits of freedom of the press. The Catholic Church is still feeling the effects of the lack of trust that inevitably follows from what we have learned about the abuse of children and adolescents. Everywhere we look, it seems, public trust is very low. Is it any wonder that bad faith and lack of trust often mark our private lives too?

For me, the problem with that question is that it presupposes that public morality shapes and determines our private codes of morality and honour. It is true that some people take their ideas of right and wrong from what is legal or not (though I have to say that does not seem to apply to speed limits). That is why time and energy is devoted to promoting/opposing/repealing legislation which touches on human rights, or what are perceived to be such. Fundamentally, however, it is our private ‘world view’ which shapes our attitude to the public sphere. If there is a lack of trust, and even more, a lack of trustworthiness, in our private lives, it is absurd to expect better in the public sphere. If we bend the truth, why shouldn’t others? Isn’t that why we sometimes doubt what we are told, rather than because we think others are trying to hoodwink us?

I was sickened by what bin Laden did in life, but I have also been sickened by the gloating that has followed his death. The desire to circulate photographs of his dead body to ‘prove’ that he is dead is nothing of the sort. It is a manifestation of something I’d call glee, a measure of the lack of trust in our public institutions and, by implication, an admission of the lack of trustworthiness in our own lives. Overstated? Possibly. Trust is a beautiful quality, well worth cultivating. When it is lost or destroyed, something very precious passes from the earth.

 

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