“Reverend Ian, we must have committed some great wrong in this country to deserve the government and the budget and now this winter”.
It was hard to know how to respond – what sort of God punished the sick and the elderly?
The view of life is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Psalm 37 says, ‘I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread’. The message is clear, keep the rules and all will go well. The message is also clear for those who are going through hard times; they must have done something to deserve it
People in Bible times had a very firm belief that God was active at all times and in all places; if someone was suffering, then God must have a reason for it. Jesus has a row with the Pharisees in John Chapter 9. Jesus heals a man who has been born blind and Jesus’ own disciples ask him, ‘who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ If God looked after those who kept the rules, if there was something wrong, then you must have done something wrong to deserve it.
The Old Testament attitude towards life became very deeply rooted in Protestant thinking: work hard and all will go well; if things go wrong, then it’s your own fault. When the great famine hit Ireland 165 years ago the response of the English government was based on this thinking. ‘The Times’ newspaper in London commented, ‘It is the old thing, the old malady breaking out. It is the national character, the national thoughtlessness, the national indolence’. The English logic was that if Irish people were dying of starvation, then it must be their own fault, because that was the way the world worked. Even worse than the logic of the London Times was the argument of Protestant evangelicals like Alexander Dallas and the Society for Irish Church Missions who viewed the famine as God’s judgment on the Irish people for remaining Roman Catholics. What sort of view of God suggests he will cause children to die because their parents belong to the wrong church?
Jesus turns the teaching of Deuteronomy, the source of much of the traditional thinking, on its head. Deuteronomy promises that God’s people will be feared by all, it promises that they will be head of all things. Jesus says that God’s people should be servants, that whoever wants to be first should be slave of all. This is a far remove from the theology of Alexander Dallas which suggested God would allow children to die.
Anyone who has read Deuteronomy, anyone who has read the lines from Psalm 37, will know that this is not the way the world is. We have all known good, honest, hard-working people who have endured terrible suffering; we have all know people who have obeyed God and laboured hard all their lives and never had a cent to spare.
The weather has nothing to do with right or wrong. The government was chosen by the voters in 2007. The budget is the doing of the government. God has no hand, act or part in bringing about the state of Ireland in December 2010.