From the minister...
Who could have imagined it? As one season of suffering and disruption appears to be drawing to a close, another crisis begins. Two years of lockdown, isolation and the terrible loss of life caused by the pandemic are now being followed by the outbreak of war in Europe. All of us have recoiled in horror at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and all the tragedy it brings with it: many deaths and injuries on both sides, the millions of people displaced from their homes, the families separated and the buildings destroyed.
These events raise huge questions for everyone, not least for people of faith who seek to reconcile our belief in the love, goodness and justice of God with the events taking place in Eastern Europe. We ask the same questions that followers of Jesus have voiced for the last 2,000 years. How do we trust in God’s purposes when evil appears to have the upper hand? How do we apply the teaching of Jesus who commands us to love our enemies when they act with such callous disregard for others? And, ultimately, we ask where God is in all of this?
There are no easy solutions to any of these problems, no neat answer that can fit into two pages of INSight. Like the Apostle Paul, ‘for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror’ (1 Cor 13:12). This side of glory, we may never be able to fully make sense of the suffering we see around us. However, as Easter approaches can I encourage us to follow the advice of the letter of Hebrews, whose writer urges us to fix ‘our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God’ (Heb 13:2).
In a few weeks’ time it will be Good Friday. We will read again the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, including the haunting and desperate words which he cries out in a loud voice: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34).
This broken and suffering man, the innocent victim of the brutal violence of the empire, shows to us the loving response of God to a world fallen from his original purposes. We see the implications of this call all around us, in the historical events unfolding before us – in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Yemen, in the pandemic and the environmental crisis – and in the many ways that disorder and disruption break into our own lives: our cancer diagnoses and our mental health problems, the relationships where reconciliation seems impossible, the disappointments which accrue over the years. Jesus is not immune from such suffering. He dies at the hands of an empire and knows what it is to be betrayed by a friend.
Reflecting on these words of Jesus, the late American scholar Walter Wink wrote: ‘In his cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, he is one with all the doubters whose sense of injustice overwhelms their capacity to believe in God; with every mother who cradles the lifeless body of a courageous son or daughter; with every Alzheimer’s patient slowly losing the capacity of recognition. In Jesus we see the suffering of God with and in suffering people.’ 1
To this list we could add others with whom Jesus is now one: those sheltering in the basement of a building while missiles fall on their city, every opposition politician who is in prison, the refugees displaced in camps over the border.
As this terrible conflict continues, it’s likely that most of us will approach Easter with one eye on our Bibles and one eye on the news. As we do so, let’s remember that we bring our prayers to a God who is not immune to pain or suffering, but rather the one who has entered into our world and identified with every victim. But let’s also keep in mind that he is the God of both Good Friday and Easter Day, not just the One who hung on the cross but also he who emerged from the empty tomb. He was a victim of violence but also, astonishingly, at one and the same time a victor. Having suffered the worst suffering the rulers of the world could inflict upon them, Jesus rose the dead. Paul describes this as the means by which He ‘disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ (Col 2:15).
Paul acknowledges elsewhere that we are still awaiting the final moment when this victory is complete, when God ‘has put all enemies under his feet’ (1 Cor 15:25). It is desperately hard to wait, especially at times like this when we might be tempted to despair, such is the suffering caused by people of violence. For now, we hold on, praying, lamenting, doing whatever we can to help, and knowing that our prayers are heard by One who has been there and understands and whose love will have the last word.
Wishing you God’s grace and peace
1Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, 1992, Fortress Press, p142