Fascinated to read Andrew Brown's piece on "Help me overcome my unbelief". Not sure it tells us the cause of his unbelief, but then that may be my problem, not his. I've a notoriously bad attention span, unable to read even the simplest sentence from George Herbert without wishing I could meet him on the road. And don't even get me started on that "Sweep the Floor for Jesus" hymn he wrote. I sang that at an advent carol service once where somebody set herself on fire. I'm not totally sure that wasn't to avoid singing another verse. Also, Andrew's got a cracking aphorism about bishops, about halfway through.
Andrew is right, of course. Sin doesn't cause all the pain in the world. Mind, I'm not sure the Bible writers all thought that. Some of the wisdom and Psalm authors, maybe. But try telling it to Job or old Ecclesiastes. I reckon they'd be saying they'd meet Georgie H in the road, as well. Next thing you know, there's George Herbert in the road and a whole bunch of people wanting to meet him. Could be quite a queue.
Our Lord's suggestion is that, in cases of unexplained suffering, and where no circumstantial evidence such as a dagger in the Dining Room is found - that "nobody sinned". In fact, that the suffering is so that God's glory can be better revealed. And that's great, inasmuch as the man born blind or anyone else who's blessed enough to be in the firing line of a miracle goes. And praise God, when a miracle hapoens. But for the rest of us, struck down with some genetic condition the doctors can't treat or randomly having meteorites land on our heads or whatever - there must be something else. Not to mention those knocked down in the rush to get at George Herbert.
And it was Douglas Adams (it often was) who remarked that what the story of the Fall tells us is that God is the sort of Person who'd put a brick under a hat to see if someone was gonna kick it. And I wonder if he's got a point.
We are exactly the sort of people who, told not to eat an apple, go ahead and eat it. Later on we'll come up with a rubbish excuse, and later still acquire a need for a Saviour. But, for now, it's an apple. Juicy! Tasty! Forbidden! And we live in a world where crappy things happen, everybody dies, random stuff occasionally falls out the sky and the whole thing's gonna end in heat death.
But what if that is what it's all about? What if this world is the way it is, because it has to be? That we need Time's Entropic Arrow, driving us to chaotic homogeneity, because that's the only way things can happen? So the mess is inevitable. The drive is one way. And hats are there for kicking, and apples for eating, because that's what we do? We just need to be told not to eat the apple. It's the only trigger we need to get a sudden craving for Ashmead's Kernel.
And yet the world is so beautiful, its maths so elegant, and we are so resoundingly here, in all our beauty and stupidity, that I can't believe this wasn't meant. I do believe the whole thing was designed so reasoning beings could crawl out of the slime, and make up myths about their own origins.
In which case, I'll cling to that voice that tells us we don't need to eat the apple - that, given the right example and right support, we can leave the hat un-kicked. That this universe is wrecked and doomed because, this time out, it has to be - because this is the way first-time universes are. That a universe can't be good until it's done the whole Big Bang-Heat Death thing. Because life only comes through death, and nettles make good fertiliser.
And I will believe that because God knows this is how universes work, God is there in every bit of the pain - shuddering over our stupidity but knowing that the stupid, cruel and evil are all part of it.
I can't believe in a godless world, because it rings with an ungodless glory. But I can believe in an emerging world, in a first-time world. In a world that is still reaching for where it should be, and still reaches for perfection as it dives into oblivion