Can a place be truly ‘godless’?

An excerpt from a sermon by Rev Christy Capper, 23rd July 2017

“The most godless place under heaven” (Rev James Denny, describing Sydney in 1824).

Can a place be truly godless? The ancient people of the Middle East did not think so. To them it was vital to find out who the local god was when travelling to a new area. Gods were seen as regional. To have success in a place you needed to know what god governed that particular location. This was the god that would need to pray to in order for the land to be fertile and produce crops, in order for your wife to be fertile and produce children. This was the god who brought good weather and kept your family and friends safe and well fed. This is not the way that we think anymore. When I moved from Melbourne to Adelaide, I was more concerned with finding good coffee shops and the local supermarket. These days we scout out different things when we move to a new area.

Jacob had been sent away by his father, Isaac, to find a wife. He leaves his family and their land and journeys away from the familiar places of his youth. One night when Jacob breaks his journey to sleep he lies down and has a dream. In his dream he sees a ladder set up, angels are ascending and descending the ladder and God promises Jacob that his descendants will be numerous, that they shall spread over the land, that God will go with them. When he wakes up Jacob realises that God is in this place – none other than the house of God. For a man who lived in a world of regional gods this is a bold statement, this is a new way of looking at the world. Jacob realizes that the God who has made these promises to him is bigger than he previously realised, that this God is in more than one place. As the Hebrew Scriptures continue we see the prophets and the psalmists proclaiming the reign of God all over the creation, a belief that is continued in the New Testament.

As time has gone by, and as Christians have engaged in mission, there have been times when we have forgotten Jacob’s profound statement – that God is in this place. Missionaries have, at times, engaged in mission as though they were bringing God to a Godless land, a land devoid of the divine. Empty of civilisation, empty of humans, empty of God.

There is nowhere that we go, nowhere in creation, that God is not already present. God is in all places. Sometimes our actions in mission can make it seem as though we do not believe that God is already present and working in our world. Sometimes the way that we think about mission makes it seem as though we believe that we are the bearers of God, God’s only way into a world that is ‘godless’.

This is a fallacy and a show of pride.

Mission is not taking God into a world because God is unable to get there without us. Mission is looking at the world around us, finding places where God is at work and calls us to join in.

(Christy’s full sermon is available on the ‘hear here’ link on the home page)