Strange title? Read on -and I’ll elucidate.
Many Christians experience periods of doubt in their lives; it’s spoken and written about a lot. I don’t know whether this is a doubt in the existence of God, or doubts about the nature of God. Probably a mixture of both… for some people perhaps.
Other people have an unshakeable faith… personal certainty about the existence of God and a pretty firm sense that God is good. I’m one of those ones. I’ll give you a moment to raise your eyebrows and sigh, and then excuse me… thankfully it’s less of a hindrance in the priesthood than in any other part of society -so you mustn’t mind.
God is a given. Yep, God exists… so now what? Well, for me it has meant trying to get to know God better… a lifelong task, and different for each of us, since God meets us where we are… and THIS is where I usually go wrong… it’s so easy to misunderstand and underestimate our nearest and dearest – we can get tired and grumpy and then start to project our grumpy exhaustion upon our closest friends and relations… and the same goes for God.
I had been ill with flu for several weeks in December, and though I was aware that a virus can leave you drained and depressed, and I had thought I’d been cutting myself a bit of emotional slack to make up for it. Still I had forgotten this when it came to God. As academic essays remained unwritten and fellows remained the cause of much soul searching and anxiety… I was worn down with going to God and apologising, asking for healing and forgiveness and trying to get on with things in a sensible way. My sense of humour dwindled, my ‘spark’ was nearly out and I began to despair of ever feeling joyful again.
Then an epiphany came whilst watching the film musical Mary Poppins.
I found myself for the first time ever, identifying with George Banks (father to little Jane and Michael -to whom Poppins becomes nanny); … a tired out, imaginationless banker, with no time for frivolity -he was trying to make best use of his time and energy, and found himself severely hampered by the misbehaviour of the children and the troublesome Mary Poppins… and I felt his pain! – At the same time, I knew perfectly well; as did the film-makers, and the original author; that George the stuffy banker had got it wrong, that he needed to change his point of view and see and that the troublesome, confusing, and marvellous Mary Poppins was really in the right.
Well so far, so wishy-washy, eh?
“I’ve made God into George Banks!” I gasped. My husband, used to such odd outbursts, made a quiet ‘mm’ sound and patted me on the shoulder soothingly.
And I had. If God can be called ‘our father’, as Christians believe, still -I had made him into a severe disciplinarian with no time for fun and high expectations of achievement. Night after night I had asked for help to be a better person and to be able to do his will and work harder, and I’d completely lost touch of what God is really like. That night I opened the Bible and read Galatians 5.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…’
It’s Paul writing all about how Christ has set us free from following worrisome little human laws of religion, from fretting constantly about whether we are doing right… The way to live right is to love, led by the Holy Spirit. And how can we know if we are living according to the Holy Spirit? Well check for the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things.’
There’s a world of difference between the creative, pro-active, loving of the full Christian life; and the petty, boundary-monitoring, work-weary life of the religious soul trying to live according to the law. And the whole thing turns on our understanding of the nature of God… on remembering that first and foremost, God is a God of Love -a God who loves, who IS love… and that is worlds away from the leaders, rulers and parents of our human experience…
So when I’ve shouted all the angry, lament-filled psalms at him, and read Job and Ecclesiastes, and God is STILL getting me down… I will take a step back again, and examine what I’ve built that I’m trying to please -and if it’s more George Banks than Mary Poppins, more judgement than love, then I’ll just walk a little way away, and let God find me again, somewhere kinder and more fun.