Whatever Happened to God’s people?
Last year I was looking back to the early Church and how it grew to be universal. The church was founded by God as a vehicle to save his people. Just who are God’s people? Many people would claim to be God’s people but who are really God’s people?
God made a covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham. He promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation. They would be his people and he would be their God. They were to live lives of goodness. This was the foundation of the Jewish people. The Old Testament is the story of their growing relationship with God.
Out of the Jewish people came Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus came to complete the covenant and save mankind. The followers of Jesus became the Christians. The other people who look to Abraham for their origin are the people of Islam. These three religions are followers of the One God. They all have a claim to be the People of God.
I’m writing this in early January and the news is full of examples of a troubled world. We have suffered one storm after another and great floods have caused havoc in the whole kingdom. Looking back at last year we can trace one disaster after another, wars, earthquakes and refugees moving across the globe in their thousands. It all sounds rather biblical.
In Old Testament times these happenings would be seen as the hand of God punishing us. These are more enlightened times but we can still look at ourselves to see if we are in any way to blame for all this. Have the People of God lived up to the Covenant? Let’s have a look at these three religious groups and how they are behaving.
Islam is split between two groups, Shia and Sunni. The split is so bad that the Middle East is consumed in wars between the rival groups. The Christian Church split into numerous groups, each struggling for supremacy. In Israel, the Jewish homeland, there is constant conflict with the Palestinians. The different groups, all God’s People, cannot talk to each other. That doesn’t sound like living lives of goodness.
The flooding can be seen as a result of climate change. The weather is changing and we don’t control that. But scientists say that the changes in climate are a result of human activity. We have been burning up the Earth’s resources, destroying forests and polluting the oceans. It would seem that God doesn’t need to raise his hand against us – we are doing it all by ourselves. We are increasingly driven by greed, the desire for wealth and power.
All in all it might seem that God’s People have lost the place. The question is, how will God react to all this? Is God sending us floods, droughts and earthquakes to punish us and make us think again? I don’t really think God needs to do that. The world God created is ruled by natural laws. These laws govern how the world and everything in it works. It is these laws that scientists study to give us a better understanding of our environment.
When we abuse our environment the natural laws react and the results make us think again. However we can think of times when God has reacted to his people’s bad behaviour and intervened. When Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt he took them on a wandering journey to the Promised Land. That journey took forty years. No wonder the people lost sight of what the journey was about. They began to turn away from God and return to their bad old ways. How did God respond?
Strangely enough he did not destroy them with fire rained down from Heaven as he did with Sodom. He sent Moses to them with a list of commandments. This was a guide to how they should behave. It is still the ‘user’s guide’ for believers today. Some people regard this guide as prescriptive and negative and worthy of rejection. The rules seem to me to be very reasonable. Don’t tell lies, don’t kill people, don’t be jealous of other people’s belongings. Love the one and only God and love your neighbour. It is a simple guide and is easily summed up in that last statement.
God intervened to help the Israelites, not to punish them. We can assume that God will have the same attitude to his people today. So how is God responding to this people who have lost the place again? To be more precise, how is God’s church responding? Has the Pope issued proclamations condemning sinners to eternal damnation? Well, despite what you might read in the secular press, it’s quite the opposite.
The Pope has opened the Holy Door on a jubilee year, the Year of Mercy. The Church is reminding us of God’s infinite mercy towards us. That word, infinite, is most important. Infinite means, goes on forever, it never runs out. The Jubilee year should make us focus on the positive aspects of the Christian message. We have been saved by Jesus despite all our faults, and I know I have plenty of faults.
This should be an example to us of how we should behave towards other people. If I know that God is merciful to me then it stands to reason that I must be merciful to everybody else. That might sound straightforward but consider what that entails. I am required to be merciful to all the people who hurt me or make me angry. This will affect every aspect of my life. I need to be merciful and forgive family members who may not be very considerate. I must not react in anger to people at work, driving on the motorway (that’s a difficult one) or just people I meet.
How will help God’s people to avoid going astray? Well think about it. If we are to be merciful to other Christians or members of other religions then we need to be tolerant. I will have to accept that the woman who annoys me at Mass, talking at the consecration, is on the same journey to find God that I’m on. Perhaps I annoy her too.
I have to accept that the people who come to the door to inform me about the Watchtower magazine are also on that same journey. Jews and Muslims are, in their own way, worshiping the God who called Abram. We are all people of God and none of us are perfect. We may not agree with everything the others do but we must be prepared to meet them on that road in good faith.
What about those people who are not the ‘children of Abraham’? Should we recognise their religious rituals as valid attempts to find God? We might find some religious observances a bit odd and we might have doubts about what others believe but I think I need to assume they are well meant unless I have evidence to the contrary. I remember being at a funeral where the priest, speaking of the deceased said that he looked for the good in everyone.
I’m signed up for our parish pilgrimage to Rome this year. I might even get to the Holy door. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to think that unless I’m willing to change and become more merciful, like God, then it will all be for nothing. This will have to be a prayerful year I think.