Newsletter from our Team Rector, Canon Peter Reiss, for Sunday 12 February

We probably have no comprehension of the scale of disaster and destruction in Turkey and Syria. Whole towns and villages destroyed in one moment; a rescue needed on a scale that needs thousands of diggers; a tragedy made worse because of the time of day the earthquake struck, the cold weather and because Northern Syria is still a warzone.

We can give to the Disasters Emergency Committee or in other ways. Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal | Disasters Emergency Committee ( Aid is desperately needed, but it will be for months, and  even years. As in all major catastrophes it is the old and the young who are most at risk. Sadly the death toll will rise and rise for some time yet; the numbers so far are as if all of Turton, Bradshaw, Bromley Cross and Egerton are dead, except that it is not a complete community wiped out but a much larger group of communities in which dozens, even hundreds of people have been killed under falling buildings, and where so many bodies are yet to be found.

We can pray but I suspect we struggle to find words – prayers don’t need words – God knows how we feel, and we will feel numb at the scale, pathetic in our helplessness, maybe angry, quite possibly perturbed as to how such a horrific disaster can happen in God’s world. Natural disasters are real challenges to a faith in a loving God but so is cancer and dementia and all suffering of the innocent.

What follows is not an answer but maybe the beginning of a path towards an answer. In our Bible there are many strands of writing from different periods and by different authors. We are prone to choose the bits we like best, like the greatest hits or a favourite scene; we were taught a condensed version as children and unfortunately it has stuck.

The book of Job – a drama about the man Job, who suffers for no reason – and who argues with God – is a probing study. Part of the realisation (not answer) is that the world God has given us (whether we like it or not) is a world of extraordinary power; in Job’s time, God asks if Job can control the weather, organise the limits of the sea, handle the wild animals. We might add, how do we little humans view our place in a universe spinning at immense speeds; the sun, producing temperature we cannot conceive; a planet that is “living” with a core magma, with tectonic plates, with jet-stream and el nino. Do we, like Job recognise we are “small”, but also precious to God? Philosophers seek to explain, but the Bible’s anti-philosopher, a grumpy (old) man, the writer of Eccesiastes, says ultimately all is a mystery and all is temporary, even “vanity” in one translation. Within that understanding he suggests we learn to enjoy life for the day, to eat drink and be merry! Jesus tells his followers not to worry about acquisitions.

The psalmist looks at the night sky and realises how little humans are, yet believes God has made us special; that does not mean he has made us bigger. Scientists have now shown us that the universes are far bigger than the psalmist knew; scientists can help us wonder and be in awe, or they encourage a self-confidence that we can now solve all our problems, which is a dangerous pride. Both should be in place – God has made us to work at making things better, but we remain creatures in a might Creation whose powers and forces are way beyond our full control. Faith is then developed and shaped in this crucible, not by avoiding it or trying to escape it.

But as we wrestle with faith, making sense, etc, that does not excuse us from making a difference for good, especially where the need is greatest.

Peter Reiss