How do we find our way?

What is deeply distressing about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is not that it is so contagious or that there is no known cure or that there is no vaccine. These are bad enough. But what really turns the stomach is the way the families of the victims do not understand.

Health workers coming from outside labour to contain the disease and treat those affected, often risking being infected themselves. But these health workers have discovered that they have another task: to educate people about what a contagious disease is. There was a report this week of families of victims in Liberia literally storming a clinic and removing 17 patients, who were their relatives, and taking them home. Imagine the consequences of that!

Now the Liberian government has to use soldiers to guard the clinics from relatives of patients. So there is an accumulation of pain and frustration on all sides brought about by incomprehension on the part of families as to what is going on, and on the part of health workers with the obstruction of their efforts. How they must be suffering! The lines of Yeats’ much quoted poem come to mind: ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.’

On a moonless night how do we find our way through the forest? I was thinking about the Ebola crisis and feeling so bad about the pain of the families. And it occurred to me that we all need points of reference to give us meaning and confidence.

It is a completely different subject with only the most tenuous connection but I wonder if Jesus’ talk about Peter as the rock was a way of saying, ‘I am giving you (his disciples) some sure ground, some point of reference, on which to build your following of me.’ He introduces this image of solidity to ground their faith in a living visible community, the church, which – with all its faults – is the rock-solid custodian of the treasure which is the kingdom, or the rule, of God.

This church, or community, is where the Lord himself will dwell giving it absolute assurance forever. If we believe that God became human in Jesus Christ it is not difficult to go one step further and believe that he lives in the community of which Jesus is the head.

There is a reading in Isaiah (22:23) that accompanies the reading about the rock. It talks not about a rock but a solid peg. The Lord chooses Eliakim as master of the palace and ‘drives him like a peg into a firm place.’ It seems that God’s desire that we build our relationship on him, on solid ground, has a long history. Let us hope and pray that those suffering from Ebola may also find solid ground on which to build their hope – both in medicine and in the Spirit.

Post published in: Opinions

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