God, gays and the floods

Large parts of the UK are currently facing prolonged and extreme weather conditions, including high winds, snow and extensive flooding. In the midst of this, some light relief came last month in the form of David Silvester, a local councillor and member of the much (and rightly) derided UK Independence Party. He claimed that ‘the country had been “beset by storms” since the passage of the new law on gay marriage because Mr Cameron had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel”’. This caused much hilarity on Facebook as my friends speculated on the extent of my evil married-gay powers.

In attributing the floods to Divine disapproval, you wonder how often Silvester reads his Bible. Very early on in the Christian (and Jewish) story, we learn that God is not (or is no longer) a God of vengeance, as expressed beautifully in the words of the Chester Mystery Cycle. Here, God says to Noah:

Here I behette thee an heeste
that man, woman, fowle, ne beaste
with water while this worlde shall laste
I will noe more spill.

My bowe betwene you and mee
in the fyrmamente shalbe,
by verey tokeninge that you may see
that such vengeance shall cease.

Where clowdes in the welkyn bynne,
that ylke bowe shalbe seene,
in tokeninge that my wrath and teene
shall never thus wroken bee.
The stringe is torned towardes you
and towardes me is bente the bowe,
that such wedder shall never showe;
and this behett I thee.

My blessinge nowe I give thee here,
to thee, Noe, my servante deare,
for vengeance shall noe more appeare.
And now farewell, my darlinge dere.

As above, so below; as within, so without

Perhaps Silvester’s views have their root in what Walter Wink describes as the ‘Ancient Worldview’:

‘This is the worldview reflected in the Bible. In this conception, everything earthly has its heavenly counterpart, and everything heavenly has its earthly counterpart. Every event is thus a combination of both dimensions of reality. If war begins on earth, then there must be, at the same time, war in heaven between the angels of the nations in the heavenly council… This is a symbolic way of saying that every material reality has a spiritual dimension, and every spiritual reality has physical consequences. There can be no event or entity that does not consist, simultaneously, of the visible and the invisible.’

When things in the moral sphere are out of kilter, things begin to go wrong in our surroundings. This idea regularly crops in literature. Thebes is beset by plague as a result of King Oedipus’ patricide and incest. In Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, conflict between the ruler’s of Fairy Land has repercussions in the world of foolish mortals:

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
….
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

Similarly, in Narnia, the rule of the White Witch is manifest through disruption of natural order: “Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”

Wink argues that this ancient worldview can be reconciled with modern understandings of the universe in an ‘integrated worldview’:

‘In this worldview, soul permeates the universe. God is not just within me, but within everything. The universe is suffesed with the divine. This is not pantheism, where everything is God, but panentheism, where everything is in God and God in everything. Spirit is at the heart of everything, and all creatures are potential revealers of God.’

So, not

As above, so below,

rather

As within, so without.

Seeking Gospel order

At the end of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the three couples are married and all is right with the world. Titania and Oberon dance, sing and bless the house, mirroring the mortal marriage celebrations. This state of wholeness, completeness and right relationship was referred to by the early Quakers as ‘Gospel order’, described here by Quaker scholar, Stuart Masters:

‘Quakers have tended to deny that the cosmos is random and chaotic in nature, and have argued instead that God has given an order to creation: Gospel Order. Although humans have become a dysfunctional element within this order, it is possible, by the transformative power of the Spirit of Christ, for people to be brought back into harmony with Gospel Order….

This vision makes a distinction between the surface appearance of the fallen world and the deeper reality of God’s order for the creation (Dandelion 2005, p.30). Our brokenness stems from our alienation from God and our inability to see beyond surface appearances to the deeper reality. Salvation is, therefore, seen in terms of a journey back to unity with God and into harmony with Gospel order. This implies the restoration of mental and spiritual health and wholeness (Abbott 2010, p.23) and right relationship with other humans and with the whole of creation (Wilson 1996, p.6).’

God is not our enemy. Neither is the creation something to be battled and subdued. Paul writes that, rather than being in conflict with the created world, we are intimately connected:

‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. [Romans 8:18-25]

This extreme weather should give us cause to think. How harmonious is our relationship with our immediate environment? How connected, or disconnected, are we, with what we consume, discard and excrete; with where and how we live and travel?

Talking about God as a disciplinarian parent casts us as naughty children. I’d much rather talk about a God who empowers us to take responsibility and make adult choices about the way we live. In the Guardian yesterday, it was reported that:

‘The IPCC has concluded from all of the available scientific evidence that it is 95% likely that most of the rise in global average temperature since the middle of the 20th century is due to emissions of greenhouse gases, deforestation and other human activities.’

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

Marriage, whether same or opposite sex, is a sign of Gospel order if ever there was one. If anything’s unnatural, it’s our disordered relationship with the creation. If we continue to unnaturally pit ourselves against the rest of the created world, we can only lose. The ancient Israelites were warned that abuse of the land would lead to their own destruction:

“Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.’ [Leviticus 26:34-35]

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One thought on “God, gays and the floods

  1. Great post Mark. I’ve never been called a scholar before…I’ll take it as a compliment! ;-). In the end this is all about relationship; are we in right relationship or wrong relationship with God’s order? The Spirit that I feel and the Bible I read leads me to believe that wrong reltionship is based on violence, hatred, greed, pride, cruelty, injustice and destruction of this very good creation and all the creatures within it (human and other). Right relationship is based on peace, love, sharing, compassion, justice and care for this very good creation and all the creatures within it (human and other).

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