Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jesus Rediscovered

Do you remember Malcolm Muggeridge? He was one of those media people who spanned the transition from black-and-white to colour television and who always seemed to me to be ancient, but perhaps that says more about my own youthfulness at the time. He made pretty good documentaries, but also earned a reputation as an agnostic. His unforgettable programme was an interview with Mother Teresa, the script of which was later published as ‘Something Beautiful for God’.

When Muggeridge conducted the interview, he did not ask leading questions that forced the desired answers from Mother Teresa. Instead, his enquiry struck me, even as a child, as coming from his own personal search. Yes, as a good journalist, he asked questions on behalf of his audience, but there was more to it than that. He listened and evaluated all that she said in such a way that, very quickly, the interview became a dialogue. He was careful, humble, sincere and honest, so the responses he called forth from Mother Teresa were of the same ilk.

At the time, someone retorted that nobody could conduct such an interview and still call themselves an agnostic. Yet, at the end of the programme, Muggeridge still claimed not to know whether or not God exists.

Mother Teresa’s reaction was that she would pray for him, and, indeed, a genuine friendship resulted.

Muggeridge disappeared from the media, I presume, to retire, but I have often wondered if he found God before he died. Reading ‘Jesus Rediscovered’, I think he did. It was fascinating to see his search for God, wishing he could believe. There were so many times when he felt himself ‘almost but not quite’ there, and continued his pursuit of the God he thought possibly existed, but did not know for sure.

The idea of God was so persistent that, try as he might, Muggeridge could not escape the questioning and the search for answers. Every time he put up a good argument for not believing, he was honest enough to realise that it was because Christianity was, in Jesus, holding out an ideal to which, sadly, some Christians were failing to aspire. (In fact I was reminded of Gandhi’s remark, “I like your Christ but not your Christians!”)

Muggeridge was merely seeing beyond the human to the Divine. He just did not see that he had actually grasped the essence of Christianity and just had to take one small step in order to see for himself that, yes, he had come to believe in God and in Jesus and had become a Christian almost without realising he had taken the necessary step.

A number of people describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics. One or two of them are just spiritually sloppy and have not made the effort to find out about God. However some of them are deeply, deeply sincere people who have faced incredible suffering and disappointment, far beyond the coping abilities of most people.
Pain is a strange thing, whether physical or psychological. It strengthens the faith of some and weakens that of others. Some individuals say that it has only been their faith in God that has helped them through a particular period, whereas others have felt so lonely and overwhelmed that they have asked “Is there a God?” and, as their suffering continued, some have turned their question into a declaration: “There is no God”.

Actually, for these people, both the question and the declaration are statements of faith. They haven’t merely drifted into an apathetic statement, made from indifference and laziness. They have needed God and didn’t feel his presence. They have truly been with Jesus when, on the Cross, he cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” These are the ones who, having experienced Calvary, desperately need help to experience the Resurrection.

Sometimes, those who describe themselves as atheists are not atheists at all. They are merely very angry with God as a result of all that they have suffered but do not realise that, actually, their belief in God is alive and well. They just need an opportunity to let off a great deal of steam in his direction, have a good cry and then feel his arms around them, loving them and healing the wounds. Sadly, for some people, this might take longer than a lifetime.

Could it be, if I know an atheist or an agnostic who is such because of pain, that I could allow myself to be God’s instrument of love and of healing? Could I, in some way, gently help God to reach out through my hands, words and responses? Could I help someone to rediscover Jesus?

God bless,
Sr Janet