God’s ways are not our ways – but they could be

– Greg Boyle SJ

What a powerfully challenging statement! God’s ways could be our ways! Pondering these words I’m aware that, yes, there are those obvious things that get in the way and take us off-track, and we’d all be able to name those tendencies to self-centredness, gossip, hurtfulness and so on that so easily lurk in the human heart. In addition there are those very significant and damaging issues in our world that are clearly not ‘of God’ – issues of injustice, abusive power, greed, corruption, violence and such. But a really significant issue plaguing our world today is the loss of religious and spiritual vision. In many ways, and this is due in no small part I think to the way religious truth is often presented, we have lost the capacity to see religious teachings as imagination and possibility, as invitation. We seem to be stuck in a religious worldview centred in dogma and literalism. All around us we hear the noisy declarations of religious fundamentalism. There are those who embrace that literalism and dogma and those who reject it. Either response has the potential to set us along a path which takes us away from God’s ways.  

There is much evidence today and commentary about the decline in religious adherence in the Western world and the loss of effectiveness of Christianity, and certainly there are many reasons for this, many of them serious issues to do with loss of moral authority in the face of the abuse crisis. But I do think that one of the main reasons for the loss of value attached to religious truth is the loss of imagination, the loss of that open-ended, invitational, story-telling mode which characterized Jesus’ way. It has been replaced with doctrine and dogma. Dogma has its place of course, but unyielding adherence to dogma can be used to hide inflexibility and can be a symptom of an unwillingness to engage with the complexities of life. In this way dogma becomes an end in itself and, let’s face it, that drives people away! This is particularly true in our contemporary world. We no longer accept what is handed to us by authority figures or institutions simply because they are authority figures. We no longer accept what seems to be out of touch with development in human thinking and Science. Too often it is a blunt literalism which is preached with regard to the sacred texts of our Tradition. They no longer hold therefore in a world which has moved on from a previous era’s cosmology, cultural practices, understandings or worldview. And so people move off in search of other paths. And ‘God’s ways’ may be lost. But God’s ways are invitational. They are not prescriptive. They are the leaven in the dough of our daily lives. And to become our ways that is exactly where they must be located – in the stuff of our daily lives. Poetry, metaphor, story-telling, myth – these are all invitational for they appeal to the imagination and are open-ended in the possibilities they invite us into.      

God’s ways and our ways – it all begins with getting people to look at their own lives. Thomas Groome, in his book What Makes Us Catholic, says that it’s about starting with people’s own lives and issues and then sharing Christian faith as deemed appropriate and with sensitivity to where people are at. Thereafter let people be free to come to see for themselves. He says it’s like the apprentice following the gentle and respectful style of the Master Teacher. He refers to this as “bringing life to faith and faith to life”. So let’s look at how Jesus went about doing this and making God’s ways our ways.

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Dean of Mission