“incoming!”

We have been told by NASA that sometime today a satellite the size of a bus will be giving in to gravity and plummet towards the earth. Most of it will be burnt up in the atmosphere

Where will the bus-sized satellite stop?

but some bits will get through and could land anywhere. I have had a couple of thoughts about this…

How did they get a bus-sized satellite into space in the first place? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it actually looked like a double-decker bus?

We have been told by scientists that the risk of injury to humans is very small. A 99.7% chance that we won’t be hit. But what if a bit of the satellite landed on our church? I will be there today (not to check on it) and could imagine jumping out of my skin as there is an unexpected ‘whump’ and a bit of space debris comes through the roof. It would put us on the map! It would also make for an interesting insurance claim. It’s not really an act of God, even though he invented gravity. But would the insurers want to be reimbursed by NASA, but the company that owned the satellite, or is it simply an accident?

Often people want to blame others when things go wrong. Just look what happened in the garden of Eden when God asked Adam what he had in his packed lunch. He blamed God: “The woman you put here…” And if it wasn’t God’s fault it was the woman’s: “she gave me some fruit from the tree…” and Eve blamed the serpent: “The serpent deceived me…” And (as someone said this week) the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on. That is the archetypal pattern for human experience when things go wrong. We blame God. We blame other people. We blame talking animals. Okay, not the last one. But we don’t accept our responsibility. Nor do we accept that some things are beyond our control and some things are beyond God’s control.

Hold on. Put the rocks back down. Or at least don’t lob anything at me just yet.

I believe that God could do whatever he can imagine or desire. But the simple truth is that he has chosen to limit his involvement in his world. He has given us free will, which means that he is not in control of us. (Don’t blame me, it was God’s idea!) One of the consequences of this is that our actions have implications for and effects on others. A car driven badly by one person can injure another, innocent person. A greedy person who buys up the best land forces the poor to live in unsuitable places that are subject to landslides or flooding. The human pursuit of profit at all costs makes it possible for vulnerable people to be exploited in sweat shops or in growing crops for less than a living wage.

One of the consequences of his decision to allow us to choose him or to reject him is that he is not going to intervene in every circumstance. He may be restraining some of our excesses. He may be helping to sort out the mess. He may be prompting his people to intervene and act to bring his values into his world. But one of the consequences of creating a world in which we have the freedom he has given us is that we have to live with the consequences of our actions.

God wants us to think about our actions and take responsibility for them. I know that I do most damage to other people when I act unthinkingly, or react immediately. What will you be doing today? How will that affect others. Of course there is a positive side to this. What will you be doing today? How will that reveal God to others?

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

And if a piece of satellite hits Colchester Baptist Church today, remember that you heard it here first!

Driving tips for New Jersey (but insert the name of the nearest traffic-ridden city, and remember they drive on the other side of the road in the US of A) Italics suggest tenuous links to today’s theme.

1. Turn signals will give away your next move. A real New Jersey driver never uses them.

2. Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, or the space will be filled in by somebody else putting you in an even more dangerous situation.

3. Crossing two or more lanes in a single lane-change is considered going with the flow.

4. The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller the chance you have of getting hit.

5. Never, ever come to a complete stop at a stop sign. No one expects it and it will inevitably result in you being rear ended. If you want your insurance company to pay for a new rear bumper, come to a complete stop at all stop signs.

6. A right lane construction closure is just a game to see how many people can cut in line by passing you on the right as you sit in the left lane waiting for the same jerks to squeeze their way back in before hitting the orange construction barrels.

7. Never get in the way of an older car that needs extensive bodywork. New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state and the other guy doesn’t have anything to lose.

8. Braking is to be done as hard and late as possible to ensure that your ABS kicks in, giving a nice, relaxing foot massage as the brake pedal pulsates. For those of you without ABS, it’s a chance to stretch your legs.

9. Never pass on the left when you can pass on the right. It’s a good way to scare people entering the highway.

10. Speed limits are arbitrary figures, given only as suggestions and are apparently not enforceable in New Jersey during rush hour.

11. Just because you’re in the left lane and have no room to speed up or move over doesn’t mean that a New Jersey driver flashing his high beams behind you doesn’t think he can go faster in your spot.

12. Please remember that there is no such thing as a shortcut during rush-hour traffic in New Jersey.

13. Always slow down and rubberneck when you see an accident or even someone changing a tire.

14. Learn to swerve abruptly. New Jersey is the home of high-speed slalom driving thanks to the State Highway Department, which puts potholes in key locations to test drivers’ reflexes and keep them on their toes.

15. It is traditional in New Jersey to honk your horn at cars that don’t move the instant the light changes.

16. Never take a green light at face value. Always look right and left before proceeding.

17. Remember that the goal of every New Jersey driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary.

I don’t believe it

Sometimes you have to stop and throw your hands up. In a moment I want to make some comments about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but first I want to scream at the screen “WHY?” Not “WHY?” about the earthquake, tsunami, suffering and death but about this news story:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12756366

British bureaucracy has prevented a team of rescue experts from helping out. I hope we are proud.

OK, rant over.

So what are we to make of what has happened? Well the first thing to say is that if it does not drive us to our knees in lament and intercession there is something seriously wrong. One of the things that evangelicals seem to have lost in our search for certainty is the ability to lament to God and tell him exactly how we feel. He is big enough to take our questions, our doubts, our anger and all the rest of the things churning around within us in the face of such devastation. Have you told him?

The second is to point out that God is not immune from suffering either. He experienced devastating emotional pain when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in the face of his impending separation from his eternal relationship with his Father. God experienced bereavement when Jesus cried out “It is finished!” and died. And God is not remote and watching us from a distance. He loves every single person on this planet.

So how could he allow this to happen? Surely if he loved those people in Japan he would have saved them? This is taking us into the deep and dark language of theodicy – how come a benevolent omnipotent God allows evil things to happen? I believe that in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster these questions need to be articulated honestly but not necessarily answered. Short answers can seem trite and unsatisfactory and longer answers are irrelevant when prayers need praying and action needs taking.

This does not mean that there are no answers. There are clues towards them in Jesus’ death and resurrection (hope in the face of death); in the good that rises in the face of evil (such as the intention of the rescue team in the story above); in the way that the world has to be to allow free will and the possibility of human rebellion; in the sin of people that leads to disastrous decisions (building a slum in an area prone to landslides because it is the only cheap land around); in evil as a cosmic force not just a personal problem…

There are no easy answers, which is why it is often called a ‘mystery’.

The nature of God as seen in Jesus in the face of suffering leads me back to him rather than to answers. When crowds of suffering people came to him, Jesus ‘had compassion’ on them. In Greek the word is ‘splanchizomai’. It describes a physical gut-level response. Jesus was affected by human suffering. He still is. God is far from indifferent to human suffering. He does not have an easy answer to the problem either.