David Brooks in a NY Times column late last year made mention of a man he’s come to know from Nairobi’s famous Kibera slum. Kennedy Odede is a survivor of terrible deprivation who now is joyfully doing notable good works there.
Odebe’s story is one of poverty and loss and abuse and gangs and crime, a list of things that singularly would have overwhelmed and destroyed many. But Odede says this:
While I didn’t have food, couldn’t go to school, or when I was the victim or witness of violence, I tried to appreciate things like the sunrise — something that everyone in the world shares and can find joy in no matter if you are rich or poor. Seeing the sunrise was always healing for me, it was a new day, and it was a beauty to behold.
Sometime after reading that I was running as the sun came up and realized that even how we look at something as commonplace as the rising of the sun (or other ordinary events) is really a product of our faith. If one’s faith excludes God, then one can only look at the sun as the product of the regularity of natural forces. It cannot be seen as a gift, for there is no giver. It is the fortuitous product of those natural forces which in other combinations produce death and disease, mudslides and hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. The sun becomes a symbol of hope only through eyes that are informed by faith.
Christians are just as likely as any to see the sunrise, or other events, no differently than the naturalist or atheist sees them: as, perhaps, solely the product of natural forces or as the fruit of our own hard work, forgetting that all good gifts, whether great or small, come from the hand of God.
We can only be moved to gratitude if we acknowledge a giver. But the thing about a give is that he who gives has the power to take away what he has given. If the food on my table is the product of my hard work, and God only the symbolic source, then my thanks to him is tokenism. If on the other hand I know that the food I cherish is something that he could, if he chose to do so, withhold, only then do I genuinely see it as a gift for which I am grateful.
If what we have is only the necessary outcome of natural events, there is no one to thank, no one to credit, and therefore no one to hope in for anything future. We can only thank someone, only be moved to worship someone, whom we know can also take it away what he freely gives.
My point here is not to answer all the questions that swirl around those times of God’s absence and the pain of loss and suffering. Faith is challenged in many complicated ways and I don’t have answers. My point is rather for us to realize that the more we deprive God of control of our lives and of the natural world, the less hope we will have in him. The ‘smaller’ our God, the less power the rising sun will have to stir our hope for the day that comes.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)