Kristi Mair, School of Philosophy, Theology & Religion, University of Birmingham
There is a lot of chaos in the world - political uncertainty over forthcoming elections in the UK and the US, Greta Thurnberg is calling us to turn back or risk extinction, terrorism continues to kill and instil fear in our hearts, and that’s only a global level. If we zoomed in on our own lives, I imagine there’s an awful lot going on there too. You know, a friend of mine told me that she has four family funerals to attend in the next few weeks. All of this calamity, chaos and uncertainty then is surely a sign of God’s absence? I can absolutely see why we could think that.If I were to invite you to my apartment though, one of the things you’d notice is my love of books. Now let’s say you see on my bookcase the second of the seven Harry Potter volumes - it’s one my favourites! You, take it down, open it up, and read a page at random. It describes a violent tree attacking people.
Imagine now that you close the book and say “this book is rubbish – it’s chaos, and violence, and darkness, and all a bit weird”. I would say… “I’m sure that page is all those things… but that’s one page in a 384 page novel, which sits within a seven- book series. You have to read it the context of the whole story to make sense of it.And you would never read a book like that and jump to such a judgement. Yet this is what we do when we take a snippet from history or own personal lives and assume the madness means there is no meaning. We think there can be no authorial intent - the author is absent. God is absent. And the chaos is just a sign that he left us long ago. But when we see the bigger picture, just as when we read the Harry Potter series in its entirety, we see the chaos is part of a bigger story.
The weird violent tree is just a small part of the Potter story. And we have to ask, as we see the chaos in the world, and in our lives, is this part of a bigger story or not? And not assume that reading one page will give us an exhaustive account of what is actually going on.Could it be, read in context, that even the instability, turmoil and uncertainty around us is a sign of God’s presence? The existence of the weird tree in Harry Potter, and even the evil villain of the series, Voldermort, don’t lead us to think the author, JK Rowling, is absent. Many of us read on, keen to see the outcome, the victory. What if our lives are also part of a bigger story, of what God is doing in the world, and even in our lives, and grasping that bigger story would transform our understanding and experience of the difficulties and chaos around us.
Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who facilitated the escape of many Jews from her home town and later suffered in a concentration camps as a result said that, “when a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” So the big question is: Is what you’re experiencing right now everything, or is there a bigger story, an author. Is the train shuttling on with no driver, or is there ultimately someone we can trust even in the darkness and confusion?