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Posts Tagged ‘narrative’

This is a tough one.

Trustworthy in what . . ?

I can easily sit in comfort and theorise about an all-powerful, all-knowing, good, loving God when I am warm, safe and have food in my cupboard. But what about when my health or safety are under threat? And worse than that, how much can I rely on God for the health or safety of those I love?

Trust is earned, not given. And so to experience God as trustworthy I need some experience of having to trust him. And if I am to trust him I need to be absolutely sure that I have understood his nature and what sort of relationship with him is possible.

Now that takes some learning.

When James Bryan Smith‘s baby daughter died people asked him how he could still trust God after all he had been through. To explain he described the healing power of the prayer that their pastor read out as Madeline was dying.

The prayer took our story, our own personal narratives (a mother, a father and a sick child), and put it in the context of a larger story, a meta-narrative, which is the story that God is writing. It gave words to our anguish as well as our hopes. The prayer is honest; we cannot see God’s “divine hand”, and we want to see that there is purpose to it all. It is only when our suffering seems meaningless that our spirits are finally broken. But the prayer goes on. It placed our suffering in the proper setting: God’s “own saving plan, established before the creation of the world”.

When we join our story to God’s . . . then everything begins to make sense. The pain is still real, but it becomes bearable . . we can begin to see beyond the suffering and look towards the widespread mercy that surrounds us.

I often feel waves of fear and anguish wash over me as I travel through this breast cancer journey. They challenge the narratives I hold about life, death and my relationship with God. And they push me to explore the bigger picture, the meta-narrative.

In the final chapter of Knowing God, J.I. Packer speaks at length about the Adequacy of God. He quotes Paul’s challenge in Romans 8  to think of what you know of God through the gospel and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the unbelief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking replace emotional thinking (p295) . . .

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The big lesson in this is that trusting is not a passive state. It takes a lot of strong self talk and self management.

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure

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. . . all the time.

Can you believe it?

How ironic that this should be my scheduled blog, part 2 of the apprentice series, after yesterday’s news.

Some events shake you at your core. Your whole body responds – physically, emotionally and intellectually. As you try to make sense of the mess that is life, you refer to the narrative you hold about God and suffering.

James Bryan Smith wrote the chapter God is Good from the heart. His second child, Madeline, was born with severe chromosomal abnormalities. Doctors told him and his wife that she would not survive birth, yet she lived for two years. Through these years they explored their own narrative about God and suffering. And they suffered on the receiving end of comments from well-meaning friends who spoke from the belief that Madeline’s deformity was in some way a punishment. People can have a strong need to be in control – to have a set of cause-and-effect rules that explain everything.

Christians and non christians commonly hold to the narrative that

God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished

I hear it all the time from people around me.  And this was the dominant narrative about God held by the people Jesus associated with. You can hear the ‘punishing God’ belief behind the question when Jesus was asked to explain two horrific events – one caused by human wickedness and the other a natural disaster. Jesus answered:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

Jesus unequivocally rejects any link between suffering and personal sin. And then he uses the opportunity to warn that there is a bigger issue at stake, a fate worse than death. What a challenge to pay close attention and lift our thoughts beyond immediate issues.

Elsewhere Jesus shows that God treats all people the same

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

You do not get what you deserve – and you get what you do not deserve. Wonderful things happen to evil people and dreadful things happen to wonderful people.

So what narrative does Jesus teach us about God?

Jesus boldly proclaims that his heavenly Father is good – good like no other. God is the benchmark for what is GOOD. The dictionary defines this as possessing or displaying moral virtue. For there to be a benchmark for what is good, there must also be a benchmark for what is evil – we can explore that later.

God reaches out to show us his goodness. He takes the initiative in making himself known to us.

And in the end it is the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience . . that lead us to him.

If you believe God is an angry judge, then you are likely to respond to him by being angry when things do not work out as you think they should. Our experience of disappointment with God says more about us and our expectations than it does about God.

James Bryan Smith’s experience, and my own, challenge me to check out the narrative I hold about God to see if it is consistent with the God Jesus revealed.

Check out your narrative of God . . . and share some thoughts or experiences with us. Is God GOOD – all the time?

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We are all familiar with words likeMrs Charles was a brave woman who finally lost her fight against cancer.

We feel a sense of pity for the victim and a shiver of fear at the harshness of the outcome. And then we move on. Perhaps we secretly breathe a sigh of relief that we continue to live, spared from the attacker.

The words are meaningless. They say more about what is going on in the mind of the speaker than the person living or dying with cancer. And yet they express the accepted narrative about the origin and nature of cancer.

The stories we hear tell us that CANCER is a modern devil to be feared and fought.

No wonder the big C causes us to draw breath – to recoil in shock when it enters our safe space. Stress hormones surge through our bodies and we feel anxious. You don’t need to be a psychologist to understand that is not a healthy place to be.

The narrative we hold inside ourselves about cancer determines the way we experience it and speak about it. The narrative can rule us and can ruin us.

And so I need to look at the narrative I have about my own cancer.

Here are two things I notice:

  • First, I call it my cancer. I identify with it – it is part of me. I enjoy and respect my body. Having studied anatomy, physiology and biochemistry gives me a sense of awe at the beauty and complexity of the systems that work so beautifully and so automatically.  My first thought when I received the diagnosis was not where did that come from, but what has gone wrong. I know that my body usually looks after itself well, removing any toxins, dead cells, mistakes in replication of cells. It copes well with my occasional excesses – too much chocolate, too large a glass of wine. And also with my neglect – not enough fluid or sleep. For abnormal cells to persist and develop means my normal protective immune scouting system has been overwhelmed.
  • The second thing follows this. I ask the question – what is my body telling me through this? I start to listen to my body and my life very carefully. I look at my thoughts, my feelings, my habits, my diet – everything that I chose to do and everything that I do without thinking. I want to understand what is happening. I want to give my body every chance to heal itself. And I am thankful for this opportunity to review and align my choices with my values.
I did not want cancer. I wish it had not happened to me. And yet it is now part of my story and I must move on. I can never go back to how I was before the diagnosis. My cancer has changed my thinking and I have a choice in what I do with the experience.

And I notice a third thing – I am asking a lot of questions about life the universe and things.

If I could ask God, what might He be thinking about my cancer, and what might He advise me to fear and fight?

The song that came to me in the chemo suite returns often – I tune in and listen and learn.

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I want to know God.

When Jesus prayed for me and for all believers he said:

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.

And so I had better check what I think I know about God with what Jesus says he has made know to me.

The trouble is that the way we usually learn is to build information together bit by bit. And as we learn we attach meaning to the information and construct a story or narrative to make sense of it. These stories then become ‘our truth’ – and from there we act as if they are true.

I recently heard someone make a passing remark about God being ‘an old man in the sky in a dressing gown’. Now that is both funny and tragic. And yet you can imagine the steps that happened to get to that place – the pictures of God as an old man with a white beard, dressed in robes; the discussions about heaven being in the sky somewhere far away. God is distant and strange. If that is what we believe about him then we will act as if that is true.

We have all sorts of narratives running in our heads, not only about God, but also about who we are, what a family unit is, how we should behave in church, how we should relate to others. These narratives rule us and can ruin us.

Jesus clearly understood the importance of how we learn through narrative – he used stories, or parables, to teach what he wanted us to know.

A key part of becoming like Christ is therefore to check out the stories that are running in our heads and make sure they match what Jesus teaches in the stories he told. We need to learn replace our narratives with Jesus’ narratives.

And so, going back to modelling – if someone can do something, I can learn how they do it and then teach others how to do it too.

I want to know God in the way Jesus said he has made him known, and I want to find out what it means to have the love God has for Jesus in me.

First I need to check out the stories that are running in my head about God and Jesus – then I can begin to replace them with the stories Jesus told.

When you close your eyes to pray what stories or pictures about God do you have in your mind?


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