Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Over the last couple of weeks I have reflected on this page on two of the three Spiritual Graces of which St Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthian church; Faith and Hope. This week I want to focus on the greatest of them all, Love. God’s all-embracing, all encompassing, unconditional love for each and every member of His Creation, which of course includes you and me.
But why should God love man with all his faults and foibles, his wanderings and his disobedience, not to mention his downright disregard for God and His Creation for much of the time? Even the Psalmist asks: ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Psalm 8:3-6 KJV. The answer lies in the first chapter of the first book of the Hebrew Bible where we read that on the sixth day God created Man in His own image and gave him dominion over all that He had made. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good. Genesis 1:31. In other words, nothing God had made or ever does make is bad, rotten or unwanted. Thus everything has a purpose, everything serves and loves God in its own way, and that must include you and me.
My question last week asking where you found God today, prompted several responses but two completely different replies, each of which in its own way, illustrate God’s love for us.
The first came from a friend who sent me a photograph he had taken during a walk along the riverbank. The trees were coming into leaf, the wild spring flowers bloomed shyly at the water edge, the river flowed lazily onwards who knows where and you could almost hear the birds singing in the trees and the animals snuffling in the undergrowth. It was altogether a beautiful tranquil scene and one where there could be no doubt of God’s presence. The love and the glory of God’s Creation was on display everywhere on that bright but no doubt chilly day. It seems that even the grass snake had been forgiven!
Speaking of snakes the second story came from a Methodist preacher who, at one time, lived on one of the Canary Islands. He told me about two priests, one Roman Catholic and the other Anglican, who were discussing the need for an ecumenical church on the island. The Catholic priest toured the island in search of a suitable site but having very little money was unable to find anything he or his community could afford. Until one day, that is, when he was drawn to an unused, derelict two storey car park behind a supermarket. It was filthy, filled with rubbish, used needles and much else of an unsavoury nature. This unloved building was in the process of falling down and yet, standing here the priest said he heard God say to him, “This is where I want you to build my church. Here among the rubbish and ruins.” As no one wanted it the priest was able to buy the site for a ridiculously small sum and then the money started rolling in from the community to build and fit it out. In amongst the grime, the rubbish thrown away, the discarded detritus of the town, God was there speaking to the priest because it was where He wanted His church to be built. No ordinary building but: ‘A spiritual house, built with living stones, a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.’ 1 Peter 2:5. At the first service he took there, sometime after it had been built, the preacher announced the first hymn and was amazed to hear it sung in so many different languages all at the same time! The church had grown to be a true church for people of all nationalities and traditions. God was there too to be with them and to hear their songs of praise. Choosing this most unlikely of places to build a church shows His love for the downtrodden, the dispossessed, the disappointed, the discouraged which shines through in this story.
So yes, we will find that God is with us in the most unlikely places; in the muck and mire of our broken human relations as in the beauty of nature. God can be found everywhere, in everything and in every body, if only we open our eyes to look; and be assured we will not have to look too far. Indeed, the Psalmist asks the question: ‘Where can I escape from your spirit, where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I travel to the limits of the east, or dwell at the bounds of the western sea even there your hand will be guiding me, your right hand holding me fast.’ Psalm 139:7-10 NRSV.
Does that sound a bit eerie; a bit frightening? Is God following me, watching me at every turn? I don’t want to offend him but I am only human and so I do make mistakes, get things wrong occasionally. Well, quite often really. Will he understand and forgive me? Yes, He will, because our God is not an authoritarian God who is sitting up there in heaven waiting to punish our every wrongdoing. He is there to hold our right hand to guide and to support us through life. When we stumble along the rocky path he is there to pick us up. Remember that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, the Spirit of Truth, would remain with us and will be in us. (John 14:16-17). Take comfort too that God’s love for the whole of His Creation is unconditional, we do not have to earn it, or deserve it. How reassuring is that? God understands our human frailties and will forgive us because He loves us unconditionally and here I want to offer a word of warning; this is not some ‘get out of jail free’ card. Earlier I referred to the book of Genesis Man is made in God’s image. Now, if God loves us unconditionally we, the God within us, should love Him in the same way. But how do we do that? Once we have seen our Lord, as he heals, teaches, includes, consoles, and loves us, we are changed. And, once we’ve been loved, we are able to love one another as God loves us. As Jesus taught us: This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:12. KJV. That is what we are called to do; to love one another as God loves us.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years