Last night I went to see ‘Noises Off’ at the Bath Theatre Royal. Written in 1982, Michael Frayn’s wonderful farce was brilliantly performed by, amongst others, Felicity Kendal and Matthew Kelly. It provided a couple of hours of hilarious entertainment as we watched the chaotic backstage goings on of an inept bunch of actors whose final woeful performance was the inevitable consequence of theIr inadequate preparation. It was laugh out loud, belly achingly funny.
What a contrast to the world outside. Those older than me will no doubt be able to recall other, equally troubling times, but, as one in his 50’s (the details aren’t important!), it seems to me that we are currently living through the most uncertain period of my lifetime. If the effects of climate change, Brexit, and a global pandemic weren’t enough to have to cope with we now have to face the small matters of a war in Eastern Europe, a worldwide economic downturn and a breakdown in the provision of public services that seems likely to only get worse. And to top it all our much loved Queen has died. Everything about the future now appears uncertain, not that many are in any position to think all that far ahead, so focussed must they be on the more immediate concerns of how they are going to be able to heat their homes and feed their children.
We are surrounded by difficulty, disease and death and, as the world becomes seemingly ever more chaotic, desperation is, for many, the order of the day. And, unlike the scripted farce of a theatrical play, the chaos of real life is not something to laugh at. There is nothing remotely humorous about not knowing where your next meal is coming from, or worrying about whether an elderly relative will make it through the cold winter months ahead. Chaos is bad for us, uncertainty makes us all at least a little anxious, and without hope we are all prone to despair.
So what is the answer to our present upheaval? In all the chaos, where might we find order?
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters’ [Genesis 1:1-2]
The Bible begins with these words which speak of a world in chaos, a world that was without order. But then God spoke. God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light and so began the organisation of the universe beginning with the separation of night from day. But that wasn’t the end. God kept on speaking, ordering all that he had created such that everything was in its proper place until finally declaring that what he had done was good.
The idea of God creating order by speaking it into existence is a recurring theme in the Bible. Take for example that time when Jesus was with his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus lay sleeping a storm arose and the seasoned fisherman he was with began to fear for their lives. In their distress, and unable to understand why they find themselves in such danger, they woke Jesus who then rebuked the wind and spoke to the sea. ‘Peace, be still’, he said, and immediately the wind ceased and the sea became calm. God’s word had created what it had commanded and once again brought order out of chaos. [Mark 4:35-41]
If, then, we are to find our way out of the chaos that we now find ourselves in, perhaps we too should learn to listen to what God says. For his words still have the power to bring about order, and in so doing they offer us the hope of a future we can look forward to with confidence.
The Old Testament records for us a time of uncertainty for the people of Israel. In the year King Uzziah died, the people, like us perhaps, were unsettled but the prophet Isaiah was reminded then that, irrespective of how uncertain the future seemed, God was still in control. Rather than anxiously pacing around the temple not knowing what to do, Isaiah was given to see that God remained firmly sat on his throne in absolute command of all that was taking place. [Isaiah 6:1]. Likewise, in the year Queen Elizabeth died, God has lost none of his authority and if we are wise enough to listen to his words of both comfort and command, we too can be confident that he will one day make all things well. For no matter how difficult our circumstances may be at present, there is surely a day coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. Secure on his throne, God continues to make all things new. [Revelation 21: 4-5]
None of this is meant to minimise the current difficulties that so many are facing nor is it meant to absolve those in power from their responsibility to act wisely and endeavour to find sensible solutions to ameliorate the effects of the problems that now beset us. In my work I am all too well aware of the lack of care that is available for those who are in genuine need of it, the fragile mental state of so many who wonder if they will be able to make through even one more day, and the pain and suffering of those who find themselves on long waiting lists for the treatment that they so desperately require. Something really does need to be done.
But it’s not just the government that must act. We too need to live courageously, reject the preposterous lie that we’re all OK as we are, and accept that each of us has a moral obligation to be and do better as together we seek to help others in whatever way we can. But even as we try to do our very best, we must not be so naive as to imagine that we will ever be more than modesty successful in our endeavours. We need to recognise that we are not the answer and that we will not find any genuine security, any real peace, if we fail to seek the help of the one who is outside of ourselves, the one who is so much greater and so much more able than we will ever be.
And neither do I mean to suggest that those who trust in God will not themselves experience both heartache and hardship of the most extreme kind. On the contrary, they almost certainly will. Even so, like the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee, we all need to cease our frantic and disorganised existence, we all need to be still and know that God is God, and, having fallen silent ourselves, we all need to listen out for his still small voice of calm.
For God is most certainly still speaking, not only through the created order that has long since made plain his eternal power and divine nature, but also through the pages of scripture. And it is there in the Bible that we find the very good news of the God who rescues us from the chaos of our sin filled lives, the God who brings order into our every day as he lifts us from the miry bog and sets our feet firmly on a rock, and the God who, loving us as we are, refuses to leave us broken, choosing instead to suffer on the cross the punishment we deserved so that he could forgive our rebellious ways, adopt us into his family, and go about the process of transforming us into his sons and daughters that we were always meant to be. Such is the gospel, the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.
And so, despite all that now troubles us, I remain confident that, however long and dark the hours might be, though weeping may tarry for the night, joy will come in the morning.
To whom then should we listen? Surely only the one whose word creates what it commands.
To whom then should we go? Surely only the one who has the words of eternal life.
To whom then should we trust? Surely only the one whose promises are sure.
Because as God has promised so will it be. Order will be restored, chaos will be brought to an end and even death shall be no more.
And then, at last, we really will have something to truly laugh about.
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read, ‘But this I know’, click here
To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.
To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here
To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here
To read ‘Covid -19. Does it suggest we really did have the experience but miss the meaning?’, click here. This is a slightly adapted version of “T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’.
To read ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac – Law or Gospel?’, click here
To read ‘on being confronted by the law’, click here
To read ‘Good Friday 2022’, click here
To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here
To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it Rhubarb?’, click here
To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here
To read, ‘Real Love?’, click here
To read ‘Real Power’, click here
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