On a day when I completed The Times cryptic crossword in a personal best time (why are these things not Olympic events?) having already spent half of breakfast fiddling with a thesis chapter, I thought I’d keep the creative juices rolling and take time to reflect on one interesting aspect of contemporary Irish populist theology. I’ll call it the “Blame-in-the-Gaps” tendency
You may be familiar with the “God-of-the gaps” theory, whereby God is slotted into the gaps of what can not yet be explained by naturalistic phenomena. Well, this “Blame-of-the-gaps” was illustrated well to me whenever the more ornithological of the Montgomery partnership returned from a lecture this week given by a nationally-renowned expert who we both had the privilege of meeting earlier this year. Now, I don’t know my White-chinned Swift from my Taylor Swift but from all accounts it was a brilliant lecture.
(I have heard it said, though, that ornithologists and plane-spotters are those who, when encountering a group of people staring into the sky and remarking “Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” are quite disappointed when it turns out to be Superman!)
Anyway, I digress. As they marvelled at the plumage of the Siskin and the song of the Skylark and the flight patterns of the Brent Geese, the talk would be punctuated with remarks such as “Isn’t Nature marvellous?”; “Isn’t our world fabulous?”. Ironically, then, in a piece of unrelated side-chat during the lecture, it was said of the weather: “God had it in for the farmers, earlier, with all the rain; now he has it in for the schoolkids ‘cos the good weather’s back now that they’re all at school.” OK, so Nature is to be thanked for the amazing multifarious wonders of Creation, but God gets blamed for the climate?
Now, it all seems good banter, and it reminds me of a favourite phrase that I use quite often. Whenever I’m trying to persuade a reticent or more naturally conservative colleague, elder or church bureaucrat to take a few risks and go with one of my (probably harebrained) ideas. It is this: “Listen, if it’s successful, you can take the credit; if it’s a disaster, I’ll take the flak”.
We’re familiar with the natural tendency of humanity to turn to God in times of trouble, and in his grace he often reveals himself to us on such occasions, regardless of how little he may have featured in our lives up until then. However, this is an altogether different level of selectivity. Let’s just turn to God when we need someone to blame.
Of course, Scripture has many examples of people crying out and expressing anger at God, and asking hard questions of him- David, Job, and most notably Jesus himself- but they are done from the position and context of faith; from people who have known the comfort of his embrace and now cry against the apparent loss of that touch. In faith we believe that God hears such cries and speaks through them. But to stand outside of faith and simply blame God while having no intention of getting to know him, gives us as much right to be heard as me (with my particular footballing allegiances) blaming Alex Ferguson and telling him how he should bolster up his rather non-existent midfield.
A kind parishioner bought Gwen and me the full set of BBC’s amazing Frozen Planet series. It is breathtaking but brutal. When Nature, in spite of its beauty, is merciless, cruel and bloody; and when God, in spite of how we have sought to exclude him from our lives and culture, is gracious, merciful, forgiving and redemptive; to get those the two so inversed, is perhaps indicative of how out of touch with reality – and God – we currently are.