Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
31 January 1999
So was he right? Yesterday The Times reported that Glen Hoddle had said Disabled people were essentially receiving the just sentence of bad deeds done in a previous life. Now we don't know whether he was reported accurately, but some people do believe in reincarnation and that how you come back is affected by the way you have behaved in your previous existence.
Christians do not believe in reincarnation, it forms no part of orthodox Christian belief. Christian teaching is that following death you meet with God and there is little room for negotiation on that. Having said that the reported words of Glen Hoddle do raise serious issues and he is not that far removed from what some people suggest is Christian teaching.
For example—Whilst they may not teach reincarnation, many Christians do believe that our suffering is punishment from God, and relief of punishment is sometimes God blessing us for good deeds. There is the idea that God can and does intervene in our suffering in the role of a divine deal maker.
'Please, please, please God make me better and I will promise to go to church for the rest of my life'
Or occasionally people ask why it was that God punished a person, or we think that God is punishing us. So perhaps Glen Hoddle wasn't that alone in some of the ideas which he expressed. But was he right?
Of course if this was true then Jesus must have done something really dreadful to upset God. Nowhere was failure more so apparent than in the ministry of Jesus and his dying on the cross. Yet Jesus seemed to show in his ministry that even when a terrible thing happens it can be transformed. The disciples following the death of Jesus must have known heartbreak, disappointment, personal and corporate crisis. This was the one for whom they had left families, now he was dead. Yet, in their grief and disappointment God met with them and enabled them to see in his death purpose of God. Through that death would come a new life with God, and so they discovered even through death, new life.
I like to think of forgiveness as God erasing the past, so that it is forgotten. Indeed scripture encourages that view, God does forget our sins. Yet perhaps it is more helpful to see God's healing and wholeness as a process in which God takes the past and enables us to move on. This is Christian healing, not that God erases the past or stops bad things in the future. Rather that the things which we do face and the events through which we come are capable of being dealt with in the power of God. That may seem a bit 'airy fairy', so lets be practical,—think of a problem, a difficulty or a misfortune which you face presently. I don't really want to suggest anything because I might say something which somebody has been going through, and I don't want to get personal or accidentally betray confidence. But it may be physical or anything, a financial or a relationship situation.
Actually I can suggest something safely, suppose you have a really bad cracked, damaged tooth. How does Christian healing work for your situation with that problem? If you ask God to heal the situation, what do you expect to happen? He may miraculously make it all go away, you may wake up next morning and find that God nipped in in the night and gave you a filling, rebuilt the tooth and all was well again. This would be great for teeth and save hundreds of pounds of dental bills for Christians—but don't bank on it. It doesn't often happen. Usually God doesn't just wave a magic wand over our problems and make them go away we have to get on with life.
So when we ask for healing for different situations how could healing take place? One way is this. With God's help stop for a moment and consider what positive value each situation might bear for you. Search for its redeeming factor. Turn the sticks and stones of life into the materials to build new life. As an example, two accountants drive home from work in the rush hour, one gets ulcers; the other learns Spanish for his holidays by playing cassettes in the car. Attitude has allowed one to transform the situation. I do not want to belittle suffering, because I know that some of you have endured terrible suffering, but I am absolutely sure that our attitude towards our suffering is crucial. I have seen first hand now so many times just how much a real Christian trust in God can transform situations of absolute horror. Those who trust in God through their pain and suffering discover him as their friend, who know that he is with them, not punishing them but supporting them. They realise that God isn't the one inflicting pain, but one who feels that pain also. Forget the theological wanderings which have taken place over the last hundreds of years to try to understand suffering, this is how we discover from personal experience that God is on our side.
This is what healing is all about,
- that with the help of God we can stop focussing on our losses and begin focussing on a new future.
- We can stop looking back at the old guilts and fears which haunt us and begin to live again.
God can help you do this. Real Christian healing is not about answering Glen Hoddle's problem of why people are ill, or suffer or are disabled. Save to say that clearly it is not punishment by God. Christian healing is to move on from asking why, and instead asking how, how can the power of God move in me to create me on to bring good out of these troubles.
Christian healing is threefold
1. Forgetting the past
We are surely far more concerned with past events than God is. Christian forgiveness releases us from the past. Christian healing is a process through which we learn this to be true.
2. Coping with the present.
Sadly experience teaches us that simply asking God to take situations away does not often work. God does not turn the clock back for us so that we can undo things. Neither does he usually just wave a magic wand over illness or anything else we don't like. Christian healing is a process through which we discover that God isn't in the business of removing us from the stuff of life, but rather helping us to cope with the trials and tribulations which surely will befall us. Trouble comes not because we did anything wrong in an imagined unreal previous world, but simply because we live now in this very real present world. To put it bluntly suffering goes with the territory and even Jesus was subject to the pain and the mess that comes with being human in this crazy mixed up world which in which for so much of the time we refuse to listen to God let alone be obedient to his will for our lives.
3. Reshaping the future.
So Christian healing is not an event which will take place this morning if we pray hard enough, or drive the right bargain with God. However it is process which can begin today afresh as we seek to co-operate with God in new ways to realise how with his help we can transform the poverty of our own lives into the fullness of what he has in store for each one of us. There are so many ways in which we could start this change and it would be impossible to make a list but think for instance of how many people have found the answer to their own suffering in the service of others. Instead of blaming God for their suffering, or blaming themselves for their suffering we have examples of people who have instead looked beyond their own preoccupation with self and instead asked what they can do. We grow paradoxically by serving. Our quality of life expands in proportion to ourselves becoming part of a life bigger than our own. Life takes on a new significance and potential for enhancement when we participate in the life of God. As we seek to serve God and offer what there is left of us, no matter how crushed and broken we may feel, so God can turn us into the kinds of people he intended us to be. This is Christian healing.