There is a popular stereotype of the Christian believer that is all teeth and smiles and a relentless enthusiasm that believes it can save the world all alone. Then there is another where a person’s religious faith is an excuse to be an all-purpose wet blanket, judgemental of the world in general and people in particular. Then there are the ordinary believers seeking to understand a strange and hostile world in the light of the faith they have.
Sometimes this is simply a matter of a personality type exaggerated by the influence of religion yet all of us know people who belong to these groups. The pernicious influence of bad religion in all world faiths is plain for everyone to see – in itself the present health crisis can easily become an excuse for all sorts of toxic religious talk that no faith really gives licence for. We all know how people of all faiths lose their nerve and fall prey to harsh fundamentalism as they are tested by the times in which we live. For example what does the extreme violence we use in the name of God to solve our problems say about him? What do the appalling consequences of a natural disaster or the present health crisis say to those who believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world? What does religious faith say to those who must watch a loved one’s life ebb away through illness or senility? And what do we tell our children when the gospel of love that Jesus embodied becomes a license for genocide? These are uncomfortable questions without easy answers. Yet each of the types listed earlier on will have their answers to these questions. One may say “keep smiling, the Lord will provide!” Another will forcefully pronounce divine judgement on an evil world and while the ordinary Christian might search for value in both positions each may feel a little short changed by the whole experience.
Perhaps I am an ordinary, middle of the road believer because I know how easily relentless enthusiasm can pall when faith becomes demanding. I also know how easy it is to judge those around me without standing in their shoes for a while. But most of all I aspire to ordinariness because I believe that God is active in the ordinary world. I believe that Godself is working for shalom through all those of good heart however they name the ultimate. And I believe that whether I go through exhilarating joy or deep sadness those are the places where I must look for God’s compassionate love. Religion tells me God is there but discernment is a matter of faith. This is the faith – ful, wish – ful thinking that in my experience makes sense of the world. It also has the great virtue of pointing all of us to the One who is at work in many places and who speaks in many languages but who said to us in Jesus Christ; “I will never leave you or forsake you”.