Print Version May 29th, 2005
Every year when the winds of winter blow we see TV footage of cliffs crumbling and some poor guy’s house falling into the hungry waves. Why do they build there? Every year we see homes ruined when rivers break their banks. Why do people live there? I was in California for a while: there it’s a choice of earthquake, wildfire, or mudslide—why does anyone live there? Every summer we see pictures of parched African lands and drought-starved children. Why does anyone have to live there? There are many answers to these question ranging from poverty to opulence, from history to fate. But the truth is building houses on sand isn’t an uncommon practice.
Let’s take it further: global warming means the floods are going to be getting worse, the storms crazier, the weather harsher, the drought deeper. Our whole civilisation is a house built on sand, on a fault line, in a floodplain, on a cliff top.
So why have we built our lives like this? I guess we like what we have whatever the cost: TV’s and cars and food from around the world. We can’t imagine being as poor as the two-thirds world—and anyway they want to be as rich as us. And how on earth do you rebuild a house elsewhere while you still live in it?
Faced with that—and our entanglement and culpability in it all—what’s the use of appealing to our love of God, showing off our religious credentials, praying more fervently, or polishing our orthodoxy? Will it save us? Will it save the world?
There’s the paradox of justice and of faith: it’s not our worship that saves us—but what we do in the wider world. But once you say that you see the problem: it seems like we have to earn our salvation by the work of our hands. And in this case we don’t even know where to start.
But that’s the strangely happy core of what it means to be at rights with God: not knowing where to start. Nothing we could do would impress God one tiny bit if God wasn’t already impressed and in love with us.
Thinking about my global responsibilities paralyses me because I do not know what I can do. The second reading, as we heard it today, says we all are redeemed by our faith in Christ—and it is easy to reduce that to something we can or can’t do on our own—believe the right things or feel the right way. But a more accurate reading of the Greek says not that we are redeemed by faith in Christ but by the faith of Christ. Not our faith but Christ’s faith. It is Christ’s faith, his loyalty, his belief in us and in the world which redeems us. He is our hope.
The one who builds on rock is the one who listens to Jesus’ words and acts on them. To listen and respond—with the listening coming first. I guess we’ve got a lot of listening to do as a society and also for ourselves: to listen first and see what he is saying; to get to know him; to see what he see; to let him lead and to let ourselves follow. In faith. In hope.