Chapter 1 people: the persuasiveness of God

I had promised to deal with the murder and resurrection of Jesus, but before I do so I want to define more clearly what I mean by responding to God’s persuasion in the events of the world. To assist with this I have referred to the parable of the Judgement found in Matthew chapter 25:

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. 36 I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’

40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[c] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Some think Jesus is saying that God’s appointed King is present in the “1east important of his brothers” who must therefore be served by believers. There’s is truth in this, but it ignores one important detail: the righteous don’t know they are serving the king; they are just serving the least important! It may be that those who make a fetish of “serving Christ in the poor” are in danger of ignoring the subtlety of Jesus’ parable, and failing to engage with their unimportant brothers and sisters, since ordinary kindness is better than religiously motivated charity.

This example suggests how we should understand the doctrine that God is persuasively present in all worldly events. S/He is not to be understood as a divine addition to their worldly reality, but as a divine incarnation in them: they are, if we wish to notice it, the presence of God; the more they are themselves, the more they are God. The pair of starlings who have nested in my neighbour’s eves, bringing forth their chicks in spite of the efforts of the neighbourhood cats, speak to me of God, not because of some added spiritual dimension but because of their robust and glittering starling-ness, their care for their nestlings as well as their winged aggression against intruders. Gerard Manley Hopkins understood:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s 
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

When God became incarnate in Jesus, s/he’d had some practice.

The gospel of Jesus tells me that I am a beloved child of the creator God. In the book of Genesis, the presence of the Creator in every aspect of the creation is noted when God sees that each created thing is “good.” The creator’s goodness is present in all creatures; each in its true identity is an instance of God. If I abandon my sins, I can find my true self, my divine identity, and become capable of discerning this identity in others. Jesus is not just an example of how I should act, but a model of what I should be. His story continually inspires me to feel the persuasion of God in every event of my life.

At the same time, the Spirit of the Creator who will perfect the creation, who will make sure that nothing except evil itself is lost and whose compassion will embrace all his imperfect children, this Spirit meets me from the future, enabling me even now to experience aspects of the perfection s/he has planned for me. But not for me as an isolated person, rather as open to the shared life of all creation, to the just polity of all creation, to the beloved community, of which the Christian Assembly is called to be a foretaste.

I can, if I wish, live in constant appreciation of the marvellous and varied beings of the world, as in Hopkins’ phrase, they “go themselves.“

Except I can’t. And that’s due to my evil and the evil of others. Now it’s time to write about the murder of Jesus.

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