Have you ever had this experience? After lots of internal deliberation, you decide to invite an unchurched friend to come along to church with you. The person accepts the offer and shows up, but once the pastor starts talking you realize, "Yikes! This is not what they needed to here! Let's scram!"
Well, we just had one of those experiences during our recent vacation to Nagano prefecture. Throughout our trip, we had various friends from here in Yokohama come to stay with us. One of the friends we invited up was a non-Christian man about my age who had lost his mother to a heart attack in late July. Still reeling over the shock, he obviously needed some time to rethink his own life and to regroup with his nuclear family. Thinking it a good opportunity to invite him to church, we asked him to go with us on Sunday.
During the service the preacher started, "God is of course, in everything! When you look at the trees around us, they're communicating God's beauty. When you seen the lightening, it's God, communicating His power. You don't have to be a genius to know that God of the Bible exists. Just look outside and you can see God everywhere!" By the end of the sermon, I'd definitely gotten the feeling that anyone who DIDN'T see God when we looked at a rainbow, or a rock, or at the mosquitoes buzzing all around our heads, were just being willfully ignorant. On our way home, our 7 year-old, Adam, caught the incongruity by asking the wonderfully simple question, "Daddy, if God is in every lightening bolt, why do they sometimes kill people?"
"Yup," I thought, "Good question." I'm sure our non-Christian friend was asking the same kind of question. Was God involved in my mother's clogged arteries? Does God not care about all the bad things that happen in the world? I understand the pastor's "eyes of faith," but for outsiders, his sermon hadn't gone quite far enough...
I've always felt that it takes an incredible amount of imagination to see the God of Jesus Christ in nature. Watch lions ripping the inerds out of gazelles on the "Discovery Channel." Look at the hospital charts of a person dying of cancer. Look at the way we humans try to run our countries. There's a lot in the world not to like--there's a lot to see as the work of an "evil demon" rather than of a loving God. Maybe that's why so many religions which we call "primitive" (including Japan's native religion, Shinto), require people to pray to the gods so that the gods will not do people harm! They realize that nature is, as writer Stephen Crane once put it, "red in tooth and claw."
It seems to me that "grace" is the word we Christians use to describe the gift of imagination. Among other things, God's grace--God's gift of imagination--is what allows us to look out, to see the world's seemingly-endless cycle of life, pain, and destruction, and to say, "But that's not all!" It's the gift of imagination that prods us on to seek the kingdom of God--a world governed by peace, justice, and mercy.
We don't naturally see that--if we look impartially, we see the whole fallen shebang. In other words, people who don't see God in nature are not idiots, it seems to me. Rather, they're simply people who need to hear a message of good news. They're people who need a gift of imagination which will allow them to reinterpret the world they see. And grace comes by faith, right? And faith comes by hearing, and that hearing by the Word of God. Not necessarily by simply looking out at nature--but by hearing a truly wonderful Word from God.
Please pray for our friend as he grieves the loss of his mother--pray that he can see God in the healing care of others. And pray for us as we continue to try to share God's good news for the people here in Japan! It's a rough world sometimes, isn't it! We'll pray for you, too.
Dwight & Kari Davidson