Where God always is – in Jesus Christ.
And where is Jesus Christ?
Aslan, according to C.S.Lewis, comes and goes as he thinks fit. He is wild, you know. And he comes when really needed, and otherwise he leaves us to do what we can. Jesus likes people of that sort, (Mark 14.8) and he says, You too have opportunities to do what you can for people who need help; so do it (Mark 14. 7).
Jesus is Risen! He is around today. But how and where? What has he risen to? Not to a heaven of irrelevance, for he was raised in the body and was seen on earth by people who had followed and failed him in his lifetime. He says to them, ‘Let’s start again with the mission that crashed in catastrophe: pick up what we were doing in Galilee, (Luke 4.18,19, Matthew 11.2-6) and take it into all the world: and I am with you always’.
Jesus is with those who share his mission, and who go wherever God’s love takes God. The real question is not, ‘Is God with us?’ but, ‘Are we following Jesus, are we getting anywhere near where he is?
Jesus went to the cross, the worst of many difficult places he worked his way through in obedient oneness with his Father. A few disciples managed to follow him from sunny Galilee to dark Golgotha, and ‘stood at a distance, watching these things’ (Luke 23.49) – ‘afar off’ is better than forsaking him. The risen present Christ is still the crucified, identifying in bodily, social and spiritual suffering with all who suffer. This is where he is to be found, today.
So where is God in Christ in the present situation? God is not to be found in words, however sound and religious. Jesus is present in those who are ill and dying, those who are isolated, poor, needy, depressed. Mostly, when the question, ‘Where is God now?’ is asked, we look beyond the coronavirus victims, for we want something better more hopeful than that. We don’t want God where his love takes him, into suffering and death. We don’t see God in them.
If we can’t see God in human suffering and loss, how do we think we will ever manage to see God in Jesus? Many looked at Jesus, and said, ‘We know him, we can pigeon-hole him, he is just the carpenter’. And then, since he did not conform to their prescription for the Messiah: ‘if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’, they despised and rejected him (Isaiah 53.1-4). The mindset that despises the crucified Jesus is immunized against seeing him in the needy and the dying. But that is the place he has made his own indelibly, by being ‘numbered with transgressors’.
God in Christ is with and in all the sufferers. And so he is with those who come across him there because he comes there, whether they are able to say they know him. That is the point of Matthew 25.31-46. The Son of Man brings the peoples to judgment, dividing sheep and goats. The criterion of the division is simply stated: The Son of Man was there, really but incognito, in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, the naked, so he could be helped appropriately or could be passed over and devalued. Being a sheep rather than a goat does not depend on seeing and knowing Jesus is in any of these needy people. It depends on what is done in response to the real person who is before us.
If we do not help people in their need, we miss God when he comes into our neighbourhood. He is with them in reality, whether or not it is labeled or explained theologically. Because we do not stay with God, by being practically helpful to people in need, we will be surprised to discover that the ideas of God we have been living by so seriously, are simply empty. It won’t do to think of God detached from his bodily identification with the poor, needy and broken. This identification is rooted in the reality of Jesus before and after the resurrection. Our living and expectation is easily shaped by misapprehension on this point. In God’s time we will discover we have been badly mistaken. And thanks to this parable, and the Gospel of which it is an indispensable part, God’s time for us is Today. We have been warned, so we can turn now and follow God on the path his love takes him in Jesus.
If we wake up to this message, we will not be asking, ‘Where is God now? What is God doing about the coronavirus?’ We will rather see God in those suffering, who are sometimes taken into the dark place of abandonment and dying, as Jesus was. And we see those who are responding to their need, sometimes at risk to themselves, for they are on the Jesus way, whether they know it or not. Some are exposed on the front-line, others are serving in the second or third line, where the refuse collectors and the neighbours shopping for the isolated may be placed. All are needed, all are doing the Jesus thing, and God is in them, and with them. We are all called to go with God where his love takes him, into human living, dying and being raised with Jesus, the elder brother of a host of siblings (Romans 8.29; Hebrews 2.10-13).