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Beauty and Evil

In common with many people, August has been for us a time of relaxation after all the hard work of re-locating from Ewell. So the letters begin again with this one for September.

In Cambridge, to cap the end of the holiday season, the news has been of the Titan Arum, the largest, unbranched inflorescence in the world, beginning to bloom for the first time at the Cambridge Botanic Garden. Here it is 1.6 meters high. The giant 'flower' of the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is actually an inflorescence of many thousands of tiny flowers embedded in a cream spike called a spadix. Surrounding it is the funnel-shaped, blood-red spathe.The plant flowers for only 2 days before collapsing. The only fly in the ointment is that the flower gives off an awful smell like putrefying flesh! (The photograph is reproduced by permission of the University Botanic Garden. )

Then at the totally opposite end of the spectrum of the creation of beauty there has come in the past three days the news of the evil massacre of children, teachers and parents of the school in Southern Russia. It is so beyond human comprehension how such an evil act could have been thought of, never mind perpetrated, that shock waves and questions about what this means for belief in God who is believed to be merciful and love, have thronged the media.

The unpalatable truth is, however, that we do plan our own destiny - and that of others. God does not 'control' the world either of people or of nature. Part of the blame for so misunderstanding the 'role' of God in today's world must lie at the Church's door. Christians have been reluctant to move away from a pre-Copernican view of God as the almighty and powerful 'person' who controls the destinies of humankind and the cosmos. Modern natural sciences and philosophy have demolished that idea. There is no externally determined control of our affairs. In pagan times this 'power' was thought to lie in the stars. Christian theology took over from there to make the God and Father of Jesus the all powerful mover of everything, including the planets. Up to the birth of modern science from the fifteenth century onwards no one could explain the way things do actually 'work' in humankind and in the universe. God was the 'answer' to every question. Today we are better off than our credulous forebears but - in fact - no nearer to answering the question,' Can one believe in God when these things happen?'

Belief in God and his creative activity remains true because it is based on the experience of others, of logical argument and, of course, on the witness of the New Testament writers and those of Judaism. The entrance to a personal faith lies through Jesus the living Lord. It is not an easy option to believe in God. When we come to it, sooner or later, it is because we have begun to look into ourselves; and that is a difficult thing to do. Such a faith is unquenchable - although it was said of Jesus as he was dying that he thought God had deserted him - understandable when faced with extreme cruelty and agony.

© Aelred Arnesen

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