Lake Davis, near Woomera, 2016

The Powers

I saw bits of a movie on about Merlin last night. I was struck by the strong sense of how people were subject to powers operating behind them. They made their own choices in life, perhaps, but there were always other powers... seers and witches operating against or despite them. People seemed to be at the mercy of hidden powers.

This is a true sense of reality. Much of our life is influenced by chance and circumstance. Why one person is struck down by illness and not the other, remains a mystery. Why my loss of concentration did not get me killed, but my classmate was thrown from the safest seat in another car and killed, is an unanswerable question.

In the time of Merlin the Christians sang

This day God gives me
strength of high heaven,
sun and moon shining,
flame in my hearth,
flashing of lightning,
wind in its swiftness,
deeps of the ocean,
firmness of earth.

This day God sends me
strength as my steersman,
might to uphold me,
wisdom as guide.
your eyes are watchful,
your ears are listening,
your lips are speaking,
friend at my side.

God's way is my way,
God's shield is round me,
God's host defends me,
saving from ill,
angels of heaven,
drive from me always
all that would harm me,
stand by me still.

Rising I thank you,
mighty and strong one
Lord of creation,
giver of rest,
firmly confessing
threeness of persons,
oneness of Godhead
Trinity blest.
St Patrick's Breastplate

The Christian faith claimed to overcome the powers that were round about. "Powers" still plague us, even if we have changed their names. Christ was the rock of ages, the one who brought us under the protective wings of God and set us free. This is a nonsense if we take it literally. It is obvious that we are still subject to so much that seems mere chance, and so much that depends on circumstance. It is obvious that we are not protected in that sense. Life is arbitrary, unjust, and unpredictable. If God is able to protect us in the traditional sense of omnipotence, then God is an unforgivable arbitrary tyrant for allowing so many innocents to suffer.

So is the Christian faith and its claim of freedom from the forces hostile to life a fraud? Is it any more than wistful thinking?

I think it is. It offers a path. It offers a Way to live that moves us beyond mere hedonism or existentialism. It propounds a set of values about what is worthwhile and good. This alone is something good in an uncertain world. There exist, and not only in the Christian faith, time-tested ways of living. The key thing here is "way" of living, not the minutiae of belief or assent to traditional pieces of dogma. The meaning of the traditional beliefs of Christianity have undergone radical change, but the "way of living", the seeking for justice, compassion and peace, is actually surprisingly little changed. And it still bears the same harvest of character building and soul making.

I do not feel able to be eloquent about this. I simply observe where I have been. My understanding of the Christ, and of the Divine has changed radically. What a word like "God" means, or what I make of things like the "Virgin Birth", bears little resemblance to what I understood when I decided to follow the Way of Christ. When it comes to matters of doctrine I feel less articulate than I have ever been. Yet my sense of the importance of seeking to live justly and with compassion is stronger than ever. I am increasingly grateful for the paths that my faith has steered me along. I watch some of my acquaintances, keenly aware of my own failings and suspicious (pretty certain, actually!) that I am blind to many more, and am overwhelmed at what I have been steered past or around, as it were. Perhaps I have simply been lucky- well, I know I have, in many ways!- But I think, No, I have not just been lucky. I have constantly made choices, ignorant and uniformed, but constantly pointed in a certain direction by the Faith of which I have been a part. I have not merely been lucky. I have been blessed.

I suspect the reason that the powers in Merlin attracted my attention as I cleaned up after tea and packed the dishes is that I feel them keenly at present. Some of my family face big decisions. There are questions of health worrying us, and relationships, and future study. Work is hard, and too busy. Despite this, I feel a certain peace and confidence. I do not sing This day God gives me strength of high heaven to a supremely confident beat, bleating my superiority in a public whistling in the dark. But I can sing it quietly and confidently. Because there is something. There is... in the firmness of earth... something I can only call the "Lord of Creation" which is a giver of rest in my troubled times.

Ephesians 6.12: For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

September 12 2004
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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