Julian Meeting 2nd March 2020
Christians talk of the Passion of Jesus: it might equally be called the compassion of God. There is no virtue in believing in an enfeebled Christianity that does not put that truth at its centre, as the New Testament certainly does, for what St Paul or St John claim is that it is the crucified Jesus who is the most definitive picture of God the world has seen. Here is the ‘Beyond’ in our midst with a vengeance. Here, if anywhere, is a cause of wonder.
It is a profound truth that the readiness to forgive and be forgiven is the most powerful weapon in the whole armoury of love. At the Cross, Jesus asks his Father to forgive those who are nailing him there. That is not only the key to how what seems wholly evil may be turned to good, how the poison of hatred or resentment may be halted in its destructive course and neutralised. It is also a startling insight into the nature of God who uses the Cross to assure us that, do what we may, we are loved and forgiven, and that we only have to turn to him to know it is true.
Another truth about the Incarnation is that the presence of Jesus in history didn’t just reveal the nature of God once. It revealed the presence of God as he has always been and always will be. Because God is not confined to time but is eternally himself and unchanging, he always was and always will be Christlike.
As a man, I am bound to test that claim at my centre: to link head-knowledge (which only takes me so far) with heart-knowledge (which takes me further). Many of us have had to console the dying, spend untold hours encouraging and listening to the hurt and the lonely. Many of us have suffered illness of greater or lesser degree. At such moments we have struggled to think or even pray. All I know is that, for me, the only words that helped had to do with Christ crucified – or, rather, with the Easter Christ who still bears in his hands and side the mark of the nails and spear. The only words that I sense have helped others have to do with this concept of a suffering God, whose love for each of us cannot be altered or diminished, and of whom I can say with the Psalmist:
If I reach up to heaven thou art there; if I go down to hell thou art there also.
I have had no sudden conversion, no moment when the earth moved and the scales fell from my eyes. God has never shown himself in such a knockdown kind of way as to leave no room for doubt; and, as a naturally somewhat guarded soul, what attracts me is this very reticence: he invites and he waits, he never commands. As Love would, of course, leaving room for faith rather than certainty and affirming my freedom. The ways of God are as varied as human beings and sometimes as crazily idiosyncratic.
I believe that God is my Creator and that he is Christlike: that is to say, that his name and nature are Love. My faith begins and ends with God revealing himself in human terms and all that the Incarnation implies. But although it begins with, and indeed centres on, Jesus of Nazareth, it does not end with him. I am drawn to him as I am drawn to no other man who has ever lived, but he is no longer just a man. This belief in the Christlike God, exploring, questioning, sometimes doubting it, and redefining, seeing new aspects, new meanings, hopefully with a deepening insight and perception, is the business of a lifetime. In a sense it has never not been part of me, though my understanding has changed so much: less childish certainly, but still not as childlike as it should be in terms of trust and love.
No Meeting in April. Next Meeting is on 4th May 2020 at 7.30pm in the Rectory. Brian Fletcher