A tale of two leaders, Benedict and Francis.
When conservative Pope Benedict invites the radical soon-to-be-Pope-but-doesn’t-yet-know-it Francis to the Vatican the two find they have more in common than they first realised. They discuss many things including football, faith, and the Beatles. Here they are talking about guidance…
Hearing from God is not easy. Not at all. I’m sure we all feel at times as if everyone else has a hotline to God while we struggle to catch the faintest whisper through life’s noise. At one point Benedict says it would be good to have a spiritual hearing aid. We could, I suppose, argue that the Bible is a kind of spiritual hearing aid, there is certainly plenty of guidance for life in there. But we all read it through our own lenses, affected by our personalities, experiences and preferences. We can’t help that, and I’m sure that’s probably right in some ways, we are not supposed to hang up our humanity when we open the Good Book. I’ve often found that guidance tends to come through hunches and nudges. Ideas and trying ‘doors’ to see if they open. I’m ridiculously cautious so am always terrified of getting it wrong, and yet at the same time, even as I write this, I’m not sure it’s actually about getting it wrong or right, but the intention to live our clumsy lives for God. Still, there are moments when we have specific questions and needs. Recently, when I was fretting about life in general, a Bible reference popped into my head. I wasn’t sure what it was, or if it was just me making up my own thought, but when I looked up the reference it was just what I needed. And not only that, but the next morning when I opened a Bible it fell open at exactly that same reference.
God is most likely guiding us through the normal things much of the time. He wired life up and knows how to speak through the obvious and natural situations. Sometimes we are guided by common sense, sometimes by our consciences, sometimes by situations that require courage and compassion. Yet at other times the Bible brings us tales of risk – Peter invited to walk on water, Ruth walking into the unknown with Naomi, Esther asking for an audience with the king when it could have got her killed, the disciples told to feed a ton of rumbling stomachs with a few crumbs, Elijah trying to light a wet bonfire without any matches, Mary agreeing to bear the Messiah even though it would look all wrong to her family and village. St Augustine once said, ‘Love God and do what you like.’ Which sounds both confusing and fantastic, but the notion here (I think) is that when we love God we won’t want to be selfish or harmful. We’ll want to live and walk the ways of kindness, laughter, hope and meaning. Sound like I have it all worked out? If only! I’ll finish with one of my favourite lines from this film – ‘Communion is not reward for the good, but food for the starving.’
Thanks Dave for these excellent thoughts. I think the pope’s speech about ‘the globalization of indifference…which makes us think only of ourselves’ is worth commenting upon. This is an implicit reference to the creed of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) who preached a gospel of individualistic materialism that has engulfed the western world. Hobbes claimed to be a Christian and yet he argued that humans are just machines and this means we can commodify other people. Further to this, Hobbes argued that humans have no free will and this means we cannot really resist our selfish tendencies. This helps us to grasp the pope’s speech. In my humble opinion we need to engage with this bankrupt form of materialism in our preaching and teaching. Only then does the significance of Jesus’ wonderful teaching come alive.