Shock, horror

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By Mark Argent

ShockMy eye was caught a little while back by an anecdote from someone returning to the USA to teach in a theological college, who was taken aback by the first student sermon he heard, which boiled down to ‘God is love. God loves us, so we should love each other’. What he missed were central Christian themes like the death and resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit or a call to be more Christ-like. The theologian was subsequently shocked to find how often he was hearing the Gospel reduced to proclamation of love.

The anecdote probably reveals something of the theologian’s own doctrinal position, but he is right to warn. The love of God makes sense in the context of the Christian story, but leaving out the awkward bits misses something important.

In terms of prayer, this is to say that something big is lost if spirituality is reduced to a message that life is wonderful, God is love and silence is the sure route to an encounter with God. I’ve heard that language many times and am always concerned for those for whom life is not wonderful, at least, not at that moment. The rest of the Christian story is important because it has the depths of wisdom and compassion to speak into hard times, or even to enable instances of the felt absence of God or of hope to become a place where God can, in fact, be encountered, often in a very surprising way.

Scripturally, this ushers in, for example, the use of some of the seemingly-awkward parts of the psalms as holding a sense of God-not-quite-understood in the memory of difficult times.

Spiritually, there is something about not having to put on a front to be acceptable. There is something rich here about valuing difference and uniqueness. The public discourse today, rightly, is against discrimination. It’s one thing to not discriminate against someone on grounds (say) of their race. It’s something else, and much richer, to be in touch with what people bring by being different. For each of us, it is to be in touch with what we bring by our uniqueness.

I wonder. How far does the ‘niceness’ of what one friend of mine dubs ‘Fluffy pink bunny rabbit spirituality’ cut us off from the raw reality of praying as one bearing the image of God, and living in the full experience of God which spans the range from crucifixion to resurrection? What is it to pray in the rawness of the Holy Spirit, rather than simple conventionality?

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