Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pakistan, the mystery of suffering and our response.

"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell, if you know understanding!...Did you ever in your life command the morning or teach the dawn its place... Who fashioned a channel for the torrent or a path for thunder clouds that it may rain upon a land.." Job 38:4-29

What are we to think of the unfolding catastrophe in Pakistan? What answers can we offer to explain the depth of suffering etched onto the faces of men, women and children every time we switch on the TV News or read the Papers? The only thing we can be certain of, is that we are not to respond as Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar the friends of Job did. We cannot say that the suffering we are witnessing is a punishment for the sins of those individual people. If we use this argument to assuage in ourselves the discomfort of the pain we see, we too will be told by God "My wrath anger burns against you". In truth we can offer no answers or reasons, and it would be wrong for us to try.

God's majesty is immense. What does not find its existence in His will? He is the source of existence itself. He is the unchanging permanent, infinite reality upon which everything is based. His knowledge encompasses everything. Chaos theory, popularly summed up with the analogy of a hurricane being the ultimate result of many interconnected causes originating in the beating of a butterfly's wings, gives us a sense of the myriad upon myriads of causes and effects constantly taking place. And the magnificent Architect is aware of them all and infusing them with reality. What possible knowledge or awareness of God's mind and plans can we really have? In effect almost nothing. His thoughts are truly above our thoughts. How beautiful and breathtakingly true are the words sung by Libera "How can I sing that Majesty, which angels do admire. Let dust in dust and silence lie, sing sing ye heavenly choir!"

Understanding this we must conclude that it is not our place to "accept" as God's will the suffering we see around us whether in Pakistan, our neighbourhood or in our own houses. From our human vantage point,(the only one we can possibly have and the only one God wishes us to live up to) we see injustice and needless suffering in such miseries. And it is our Heavenly Father who bids us, no demands of us, to alleviate that suffering.

Responsibility,the ability to respond. If any of us have any ability to help lessen the suffering in Pakistan I hope that we have already done so, or will do so soon. There are of course concerns as to whether or not the money will be used properly and effectively. These and other concerns should not be ignored but they should not prevent us from giving. Find a different way to contribute if necessary, if you are unsure of the main charities. I personally recommend the wonderful charity World Jewish Relief, who have a Pakistan appeal.

These events should give us cause to stop and contemplate our own lives and the use of the blessings God has given us. Are we thankful? Do we use our wealth and possessions to serve God or to glorify ourselves instead. We should think about Jesus' comment that "Where your treasure is, there your heart is also". Personally speaking the answers to these questions are not often pleasant, but as Elizabeth Gaskel said "identifying a problem is the first step to resolving it".

I would hope that the Vatican think about the mounting costs of the UK Papal visit estimated now at nearly £12 million. And ask whether or not these expenses are necessary. Perhaps the approximate £7 million being raised by the Catholic faithful would be better directed to providing clean water or shelter to some of the nearly 20 million people who's homes have been destroyed by the floods, or even put to use among the poor of our own country. Do not misunderstand me, I am not against the Pope's visit, it is only right that Catholics in this country be paid a visit by their spiritual leader and no doubt he has much of great wisdom and importance to say. I only ask if the manner in which this visit is to be conducted follows the spirit of Jesus' instruction to his disciples when he sent them out to "preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" and instructed them to "take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money".

It is so easy when hearing of suffering and unfairness to loose sight of the immensity of God's kindness and blessings. Each and every day, each and every moment of every day we are suffused with kindness and we should heed the words of King David (who certainly knew suffering):

"Call out to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness, come before Him with joyous song. Know that the Lord, He is God; He made us and we are His, His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise; give thanks to Him bless His Name. For the Lord is good, His kindness endures forever, and from generation to generation is His faithfulness" Psalm 100

The happiness we feel in our heart when we become aware of God's love and His kindness to us, should spur us to share it with those who have less than ourselves. And to help others appreciate the good that exists in their lives.

I finish this post with the uplifting words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth when he said:

"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask for a fish will he give him a serpent? If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Matthew 7:9-11.

Thank God for your blessings and then share them with others.

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