God alone is sufficient A knowing that is deeper than logic
I was very engaged by Bruce’s commentary in last weeks reflection around the cultural proverb, ‘It is what it is’, to which he added ‘I Am who I Am’. The idea being that a posture of acceptance of life as it is (rather than what its ‘supposed’ to be), that is grounded in a vocational vision and trust in the providence of God, enable us to experience all things as formative and purposeful. This positions us as people of hope and people whose outlook on the world is ultimately optimistic and redemptive. It is for this reason that Jesus spoke of his followers as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). In considering Bruce’s rehabilitation of this common phrase, another cultural fatalism also came to mind: ‘All things happen for a reason’. In this saying, people attempt to cast positive light on otherwise negative and/or disastrous events with the idea that there is some divine or fatalistic logic behind the loss/tragedy/failure or setback. A force is at work that we don’t understand, and this force has implemented events and circumstances that seem to us now as awful but in time we will see the good that comes out of it. I appreciate the logic behind this saying and the attempt to mitigate the emotional devastation of serious, painful events. However, this saying and its logic are not the gospel. In other words, there is better news.
The gospels show the intervention of Jesus in human experience was to alleviate suffering not to instigate it for the purpose of teaching us something. In fact, the teaching of Jesus is the kind that removes psychological burdens and delivers from unrealistic and unfair expectations: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)”. The posture of God towards us is relentlessly one of nurture, support, and empathy. A Christian interpretation then of ‘all things happen for a reason’, would be ‘God present and active in love and nurture towards us and with us in and through all things to bring about a redemptive and formative outcome for our good and for the good of the world’. In this worldview, God is not strategically planning tragedy and loss for the purpose of teaching us morals or wisdom. Rather, God is getting down with us in the dirt and messiness and volatility of life as it is and breathing hope, care, mercy, and support in and around our situations. The passion of Jesus, towards which lent points us, offers the most poignant example of the willingness of God in Christ to face and experience the worst, even to the emotional sense of abandonment, whilst revealing the triumph of hope, life, and the ultimate future of the universe in the resurrection.
This week in my spirituality class we have been exploring the spiritual practice of gratitude. The art of noticing the active grace that surrounds us and that permeates our daily lives. The kindness of strangers, the person who gives way in the traffic, the friend who actually listens, the glimpse of sunlight through the trees, a good coffee, a word of encouragement. As you read this it is possible that you are wrestling with any range of problems, challenges, and threats. Even for those of us who live in relatively comfortable situations, life has a hard edge, it is not easy to be human. Yet, alongside of the difficulties, at any time we can pause to notice the alternative story that also plays out – medical care, roads that don’t have holes in them, trains that run on time, the laughter of children, poetry, music, the feeling of your head finally hitting the pillow at the end of a long day. Reflecting on the things that have gone well. Small lights shining in the darkness. God with us, God within us, God active in love and empathy, intertwined in our stories.
Who really knows the ‘reasons’ why things happen? I’m sure that I can’t make sense of many of the events and circumstances of my own life, let alone those affecting our common life in this world. What does make sense to me is the simple truth that I am not alone in the universe and that whatever I am facing, God faces it with me and that God’s purpose in formation and goodness will become the final story in my experience. This is a knowing that is deeper than logic, a knowing which transcends language. A silent witness of assurance and the sense of being held within the everlasting arms.
Phil Daughtry is a senior manager at Tabor and he teaches in the field of contemporary spirituality. He has a reputation amongst his staff as a caring and empowering leader. His students speak of his gentleness, clarity of communication and capacity to teach critical and reflective thinking skills. Phil is active in research and participates in international conversations about the place of spirituality in life, work and society. He is a member of the International Network for the Study of Spirituality (INSS) and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality (SSCS). His own spiritual journey is one that is shaped by contemplative practices from the Christian tradition and a progressive theological worldview. When not at work, Phil is happiest in the garden, on his BMW motorcycle tourer, fishing, camping, spending time with his wife, adult children, partners and grandchildren, and supporting the Adelaide United Football (soccer) Club.