October/November 2014: Events, Faith and Community

Bad things happen to good people and bad alike; and so do good things. Why? Surely bad things should happen to bad people, and good things to good people?

This is what the ordinary people thought inthe story of Job inthe Old Testament— a good man who endured tragedy. His friends think he must have done something wrong, but he hasn't. It is meant as a teaching story, not a historical account. It gets us thinking, and one of the things it makes clear is that the bad that happens to us is not necessarily the result of our doing the wrong thing by God— and that doing good is not guaranteed to eliminate suffering either. We can suffer as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as in natural disasters, or as a result of poor decisions by other people— such as when innocent people are struck down by drunk driving. Sometimes such things can be avoided by listening to the promptings of the Spirit in our hearts; but in the end, tragedy can strike us all, and it is not God who is steering when the drunk driver causes a collision.

So what use is faith, then, if it does not make us immune to tragedy?

I would answer this with three points: help, comfort, and hope. All of these work in two directions: they are things we should receive when suffering, and things we should offer to others when we are able. Together, they build resilience and community.

Help is practical: faith leads us to join a community such as a church, and in immediate need such a community of faith should be ready to offer practical help— such as meals, lifts in cars, and child-minding— to those in their midst who suffer.

Comfort is less practical: it conveys the sense that one need not suffer alone, that others care for us enough to stay by our side as we suffer, and so make real the loving-kindness that God promises us. Faith fuels our ability to do this for others, and brings others to us who can do this for us when we need it.

Hope is the source of perseverance: without hope we too easily give up. Faith is a source of hope for the future, that things will eventually change; it is also a source of hope that we will be able to cope a little better each day, at first through the practical help and comfort that we receive, but later through our own relationship with God.

Clearly, none of these can happen if we are alone - they happen as part of the life of a community of faith, and they happen because the community is motivated by faith to consider and address the needs of other members of the community.

This is the answer to the question I posed earlier: faith is of use in this context because it motivates people to rise above their own needs, and to consider the needs of others. We aren’t generally very good at doing this in the absence of such motivation! But a community of faith which takes seriously Jesus’ command to care for one another should encourage us in this, and so make the world a better place, bit by bit, day by day.— Steve

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.