1. July 2018

A purposeful God

Service Type:

‘…The Mystery of God’s Will, according to God’s Purpose…’ (Ephesians 1, 9).

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”  (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life).

1983 saw the release of the film, ‘Monty Python & the Meaning of Life’ – a set of sketches depicting various episodes in a person’s life. At the end it was decided that the ‘meaning of life’ was, ‘try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.’This in contrast to the Bard’s rather more austere conclusion…’Second childishness and mere oblivion; Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’By contrast the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in 1647 asks, ‘What is the chief end of man?’to which the answer to be given is, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’What this illustrates is that there is a very real difference between ‘the meaning of life’ and ‘how life becomes meaningful’ The first is a search on which we are all tempted to embark upon, and as we journey through life’s successive stages we find that there are no shortage of suggestions as to how to solve this seemingly insoluble riddle, amongst which even are the religions of the world. Over and against which is the Christian faith which dares to believe that what we seek is not to be found in some far away land, but rather on our immediate doorstep, daring to put one’s trust in God, as revealed in and through the person of Jesus Christ, His life, death and resurrection. If we dare so to do, we discover that ‘life becomes meaningful’ and that essential to that sense of meaningfulness is our discovering of the ‘meaning of life’: hence Paul’s comment to Timothy, ‘I know whom I have believed…’ God, who purposed all that there is into being out of nothing; the God who willed each one of us into life, has determined that at the heart of the vastness of the creation, at its very centre shall be the establishing of a relationship between God and us. If life for anyone is to be meaningful, then such meaningfulness can only be derived from being a relationship with God. But, because God in Jesus became as one of us and in so doing forged relationship with us, so the relationship established by God with us is worked out, primarily, in the way we as people of faith relate one to another. The ultimate purpose of God, and that which in turn supplies a sense of meaningfulness to all there is, is the establishing of and the living out of loved based relationships, and even with those who would otherwise be strangers to us, even our enemies. But sadly, rather than understand God’s purpose as one of reconciliation, of bringing people together in peace, too often we choose to ‘go to war’ for the sake of God. This is because we cannot get past the infantile notion that because we are in a relationship with God, our calling in life must be to browbeat, threaten, and eventually reduce to nothing those who do not believe as we do; to alienate ourselves from those we believe to be alienated from God. God doesn’t need anyone to fight battles in the name of God – the Salvation ‘army’ is eloquent testimony to the futility of war mongering – an ‘army of ordinary people’ seeking to act peacefully on behalf of those who need their help. But as we know, conflicts do happen, wars break out, and instinctively there is the thought that God must be on ‘our’ side…but who are we to determine whose side, if any, God might take in any conflict – conflict for its own sake stands condemned – but conflict as a way of bringing forward resolution might just be justifiable, but only if engaged in humbly, even apprehensively, the purpose of God having to be unfolded in the most unlikely of ways – that the greater good might prevail – the awful conclusion that the likes of Deitrich Bonhoeffer was forced to come to when confronted by the evils of Nazism. Some 75 years previously, the then US President wrestled with the same dilemma when confronting the evil of slavery.

“The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both *may* be, and one *must* be, wrong. God cannot be *for* and *against* the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party - and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaption to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true - that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either *saved* or *destroyed* the Union without human contest. Yet the contest began, And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.” (Abraham Lincoln).

Jesus went ‘to war’ – winning the war – dethroning the powers of sin and evil, emerging triumphant from the grave that God’s purpose might be effective. It is it would appear, a necessary consequence of the Incarnation that the purpose of God is laid bare before the world in ways that the world understands, taking of that which the world glories in and turning it against itself. It is not that God could not intervene to prevent what happens; however atrocious, it is in its happening that redemption, the ultimate purpose of God is revealed…Jesus could have cheated death, rather he overcame it. The path to overcoming is not easy but it is the only way. We shall overcome, someday, for God has purposed that it be so.