Sunday, 13 November 2011

Does God Intervene in the Affairs of Men?

It's been an emotional Remembrance weekend. Actually, with the BBC programmes leading up to it, it has been an emotional week, as I found it all very moving.

The clue is in the word Remembrance. Those killed and injured from 1914 to 2011 have been remembered, culminating in Sunday's event at the Cenotaph in London.

One serviceman was interviewed in London on Sunday at the Cenotaph, and was asked what he felt the mood was like in the country. I liked his answer. He said that it wasn't so much support for war, but support for the troops. I think he's right.

Many in the country like myself, abhor war, but are realistic enough to know that just as there has always been wars, so there will be wars in the future.  The Royal British Legion, and scores of subsequent service charities, are not in existence to glorify war, but to remember those who died, and support those who suffer. I was watching the remembrance event from Whitehall on Sunday, and it brings home to you the far-reaching effect of war. There was one poignant moment when names scrolled across the screen of those British service personnel killed since the last Remembrance Sunday; I counted 44 names. I think that it is right to remember the casualties of war; not through the eyes of narrow parochialism though, but to take a truly world perspective.

In World War One there were 886,342 UK fatalities; in World War Two the figure was 383,667, and since 1945 there has been 17 different areas of British military conflict with 3,473 fatalities. The country was told after the Second World War never to forget the horror of it, so that it might never happen again. This was a dream never to be realised. Apart from Britain itself becoming involved in 17 conflicts since 1945, according to the Peace Pledge Union, since that year, there have been over 250 major wars in which over 23 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved. The Imperial War Museum says that there has been "fighting somewhere in the world almost every day since 1945". Other researchers are more specific, stating that there has only been 26 days of peace across the world since 1945. That's 66 years, or 24,090 days, with only 26 days of peace - makes you think doesn't it? Remembrance Sunday is about casualties among service personnel, but what about civilians? According to the New Internationalist - Issue 311 'Peace', "In armed conflicts since 1945, 90% of casualties have been civilians, compared to 50% in the Second World War and 10% in the First World War". These are people generally who are remembered by no-one, except their families. I don't give these figures as an anti-war statement, but simply to show how many we are remembering. The numbers are staggering, horrifying and incalculable. By all means let's remember and support those within our nation affected by conflict, lest we become immune to the smell of it all.

While watching the Remembrance Day event, the familiar strains of the hymn, "O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come" could be heard. In countless services up and down the country over the years, thanks has been given to God for victory. When I was in the Church, and following some tragedy, I was often asked, "Why does God allow such and such to happen?" I had my answers, which over time became more and more unsatisfactory. Let's assume for arguments sake that there is a God. This is not the time or place to discuss the opposing views of the likes of Richard Dawkins or the Theistic philosophers. There is a greater question than the Why, and it is, "Does God intervene in the affairs of men?"

German World War One Belt Buckle
On Saturday night, while searching the Internet for some answers to the identification of my Grandfathers World War One uniform, I stumbled across a German military memorabilia site.

There were belt buckles for sale from both world wars. The one shown opposite was from the First World War, and on the Second World War buckles, the crown had been replaced by the eagle and swastika. However, the words, "Gott Mit Uns" were on both war buckles.

Using the Internet translator, the words turned out to mean, "God (is) with us". I hope that I'm not being naive, but it seems to me that here we have people on opposite sides of the conflict believing that God was with them, and believing that God would give them victory. But only one side won; does that mean that God had deserted those who believed in him from the other side? Britain of course has always believed that God is on her side; from the Crusades, through battles with Irish Catholics or Scottish Dissenters. But, "Does God intervene in the affairs of men?"

Did God bring victory against Germany by directly intervening in the war? Or was the war won because Britain and her allies were just eventually better than Germany? If God does intervene, then some might like to ask, why didn't he do it sooner, and save the lives of millions? For some, questioning the Almighty is out of place, as who can know his will. Quite frankly, this is a cop-out. If God doesn't intervene in the affairs of men, then perhaps he is just allowing his created beings to work out their own path to what is good and right. That makes a bit more sense than saying that he supports some of his followers more than others. I am asking the question simply because I don't have the answer,  but I believe that it is a right question to ask.

You see, it's not just a question for matters of war, as it crops up in other areas of life.

I remember last year in a Golden League meeting, the 100 metre race. There were the top sprinters of the day involved in the race (the money on offer ensured that!!), and two of them in particular caught my attention.

Both were separately interviewed before the race and spoke of their Christianity, and that God would be with them. One of them won, and obviously the other didn't. The winner gave thanks to God for the victory, but the loser wasn't asked for his views. Two Christians battling it out for a top athletic prize believed that God was with them, but for one he obviously wasn't. (The often quoted phrase is that God always answers prayer, it's just that sometimes he says no). "Does God intervene in the affairs of men?" Does an omnipotent, omniscient Being, who has the world before him, care to intervene in a race, and choose one of his followers over another? Could it not be that on the day, the winner was just quicker than the loser, and there's no more to it than that?

This post is not meant to question the morality of war, or the existence of God. I've simply asked a question that I don't know the answer to. If anyone out there feels that they have an answer to the question, I'll be glad to hear it.

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