If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
It never ceases to surprise me that when people take the existence of evil and the experience of suffering as a reason for not believing in God.
Now I’m not referring to the person whose faith is shattered by tragedy, or who descends into depression after a series of unfortunate and dispiriting events. Loss and disappointment leave deep wounds and weigh heavily upon the spirit. It is often hard for people in such circumstances to grasp meaning or to hold on to hope.
No, what I am referring to is the sort of person, usually comfortable and self assured, who says to the believer - “how can you believe in a good God when bad things happen?” They see it as a strong argument, indeed even perhaps a proof, that God does not exist.
But so often, the reason why someone sees no point in believing God is because they think they no need of him. They are so comfortable in their lives and their approach to life, that the idea that there might be a higher power is unsettling and even inconvenient.
In fact, look around the world, watch the news, and you can see that people turn to God most not when they are comfortably off, when everything is going well, when they are free from worries. No, it is at times of anxiety, and danger when the Churches are fullest.
After atrocities like the recent shootings in Orlando, and the terrible murder of the MP Jo Cox this week, and similarly after natural disasters and atrocities, the immediate human response is to light candles, to visit places of worship, to gather together in prayer, even for people who have only the vaguest sense of faith or belief.
As people have less and less attachment to a particular church, it is noticeable that when someone has died there is little demand for a non-religious, humanist service, but more and more often for a “celebration of life” which includes some small aspects of faith, or ceremony, or religion.
In bereavement and loss there is comfort in prayer. In worrying about the future we turn our hearts to God. In distress and perplexity there is little left but to pray.
God is known best not by the comfortable, but by those in discomfort, not by the well-fed, but by the hungry, not by the rich but by the poor - poor in spirit, poor in hope, poor in circumstance.
And why? Not, I think because such people are weak, and to be pitied? Perhaps - but more likely because those who know their own weakness are those who know that there is something greater, something more powerful. Only those in need know their need of God. It is only in the experience of suffering, in the struggle against evil, that the hope of victory is known.
We sometimes put this in very simple ways: “No gain without pain‚” or, “Only those who are flat on their backs look upwards”. But it is true, only in the carrying of the cross do recognise both our weakness and our hope, our suffering and our joy, our presence and our future.
For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.
MPs light candles for Jo Cox in Parliament Square