Column: The Dean of Ripon's monthly reflection with the Very Reverend John Dobson - God’s light shining in the world’s darkness
The devastating earthquake in Turkey has led us to contemplate human suffering on a massive scale. Well over 30,000 people have perished and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that over twenty million will be exposed to suffering, not least due to extreme weather conditions. We are bound to ask why such suffering happens. Where is God?
The same could be asked in relation to Ukraine. President Zelensky visited the King and both houses of parliament last week. We heard the brave Ukrainian president appealing for more material support, for weapons which will enable his equally brave compatriots to sustain their valiant fight against a mighty foe. His words in London were reminiscent of those addressed by Winston Churchill to the Americans in the early years of the Second World War, ‘Give us the tools and we will do the job.’
In a recent radio interview, I was asked how we should respond to the devastation and human suffering caused by earthquake and war. My first answer was that we should pray to the God who is the creator of all good things and who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. A candle symbolising our prayers was already lit in the cathedral. The God who showed his true nature by hanging on a cross, a cruel instrument of capital punishment, is the God who remains with those who suffer in the most appalling situations in a far-from-perfect world and universe. My second response was that we can do our bit to help God’s light to shine in the darkness.
For months, since the beginning of Advent, the Church has been sharing the hopeful message of the light of Christ coming into the world. Globally, there have been billions in packed cathedrals and churches, and tuning into radio and television, who have been keen to celebrate this theme. This period of the Church’s year reached a dramatic and enthusiastic climax in Ripon Cathedral, with over 8,000 candles burning triumphantly for a packed Candlemas congregation on February 2. It is when the darkness risks appearing overwhelming that this message of Christ’s transforming light becomes most relevant.
The human suffering resulting from earthquake and war is not to be trivialised, but neither is the hope which comes from both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and from ordinary people, whether of faith or not, acting in ways which reveal that same divine light.
I believe this light can be seen in the moral capacity to judge the attack on Ukraine as wrong, in the support given to refugees who have fled that war zone, and in the decision by Britain and other nations to provide military equipment. In the case of the earthquake, this same divine light can be seen in the sympathy experienced globally, in the generous determination to provide as much relief as possible. God’s light can be seen in the natural instinct to pray for the wellbeing of all, and the willingness to allow our prayers to lead to positive action. This universe may be far from perfect, but we can thank God that his light shines, even in the darkest situation, through the courage, moral integrity and generous support of ordinary people.