It is not enough to say that people should not worry because God is in charge, because – quite frankly – looking at the world, God doesn’t actually seem to be in charge at all, says Eddie Arthur


Source: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip

I don’t know if you have ever had malaria. I have, numerous times and I can ensure you that it is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds.

I hasten to add, that I didn’t contract malaria up here on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. I suffered from it in Ivory Coast, where I was serving as a Bible Translator. Thankfully, while I had a fever, the worst headache you can imagine, aches and pains and a stomach that refused to hold anything down, no one ever said that I had the privilege of suffering for the Gospel. It’s true, I did get malaria because I was following God’s call on my life, but there are times when pointing that out could be less than helpful. All I wanted was quinine and paracetamol! Pain hurts!

The world faces two massive issues at the moment. The first is the security situation; I write this as Israel prepares a ground assault on Gaza and the war in Ukraine grinds on, not to mention conflicts in Sudan and Ethiopia. The world is a scary place right now and it isn’t impossible that the UK and other countries like us will be dragged into one of these conflicts.

The second issue is the climate emergency. I don’t care what your politics are, but there is a demonstrable increase in severe weather across the globe. Again, as I write parts of the UK are facing flooding because of storm Babet sweeping across the country. You can argue all you like about the causes of the emergency, but it is a measurable real world phenomenon.

So what?

Well, my concern is that much of the Christian response that I see to these issues simply boils down to “don’t worry, God is in charge”.

Now, I don’t argue that God is in charge, he is and I am confident that everything will work out for good to those who love the Lord. But try telling Palestinian Christians who are facing Israeli armour not to worry (or Israeli Christians who lost family to Hamas attacks) that they have nothing to worry about. Or what about believers who have lost everything in the floods in Scotland, is a simple “don’t worry” enough for them?

God is in charge. I trust the promises of a new heaven and a new earth, where pain and sadness will be washed away. However, in this present world there is pain and the problem with pain is that it hurts. It literally hurts like hell. Jesus wept at Lazarus grave, he did not simply say that everything would be ok (though he did say that, and it was).

Christian preachers and teachers need to take these issues seriously and to do some applied theology. We cannot simply ignore the pain of people who are suffering in these situations, nor can we dismiss the anxiety felt by members of congregations across Britain as they watch the world apparently fall apart on the ten o’clock news. Let me give some unasked for advice to preachers:

  • Address current issues. You can either devote a special sermon to one of these issues or you can address them seriously within a sermon series, but you have to talk about them. When we ignore these things we give the unspoken message that Christianity is irrelevant to the wider world.
  • Take people’s concerns seriously. Don’t just tell people not to worry. Acknowledge the pain and anxiety that people feel. Simply telling them not to worry can lead to people feeling inadequate and depressed.
  • Explain. It is not enough to say that people should not worry because God is in charge, because – quite frankly – looking at the world, God doesn’t actually seem to be in charge at all. It’s a mess and it’s going to hell in a handcart. How exactly is God in charge? If he is in charge, how come so many things are going wrong? This will mean wrestling with some complex issues and it will mean getting to grips with difficult bits of the Bible such as Lamentations and Revelation, but this is precisely why these difficult books are there in the first place.

The Bible was written by people who faced incredibly difficult situations and they didn’t gloss over them. We need a faith and teaching that is rooted in the reality of our lives today.

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