Lesson from a midnight alcoholic

God comes to us at times in a ‘distressing disguise’ as I discovered last night:

As I waited for my taxi home from work at around midnight last night I saw one of the local ‘characters’ of our town coming towards me. She was muttering something to herself as her rotund frame stooped to closely examine some junk mail on the footpath which I had stepped over about five minutes previously. After some debate with herself it was retrieved and carefully placed in one of the two supermarket bags she carried. Upon straightening up she caught sight of me, waved, mumbled and shuffled towards me.

Having some knowledge of this character the thought, “now would be a good time for my taxi to arrive”, crossed my mind as I was greeted by the pungent bouquet of stale urine and sweat with tones of cigarette smoke layered over alcohol. However, last night Joan was just in the mood for a chat so she yarned, while I nodded and made encouraging noises, telling her my name five times over. She was convinced she could remember me from somewhere. It’s possible, I certainly remembered her, though I do hope my general behaviour is less memorable than hers. We discussed my job and why I was out so late, she told me details of her birth and her life. One comment stuck in my mind, “the doctors tell me it’s not my fault for being like this, my parents did it to me, but I still choose to drink so it is my fault.”

I was then presented with a hand-made Easter card, given a hug and God’s blessings and she wandered off into the night.

An odd wee encounter which did leave me thanking God – thanking Him for Joan and a number of other people like her in various ways who have survived many years of wandering the streets in all weathers, at all hours of day and night, enduring constant mocking, jeering and abuse. Thanking God that they are ‘OK’, they are still around, some of them do know Jesus, and that in faltering ways our society at least protects their basic humanity and some dignity.

Of course I also thanked God that I am not living my life as an alcoholic wandering the streets.

I thank Jesus for reminding me of his grace in keeping the choices I make from so very easily tipping me into a chaotic life.

He also is thanked for reminding me to pray for these, His children, the little ones whose being led into sin will be punished, these lost who He came to find, these sick and cold and hungry who He commands us to heal, feed, clothe and comfort. I thank Him that even despite the lousy attitude of my heart He conversed with Joan and had compassion on her, leading me as a petulant child on a brief interlude of love.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
(Luke 19:10 ESV)

(Credit to Mother Teresa of Calcutta for the perception of Jesus coming to us in a distressing disguise)


Such relief to turn off the TV and allow silence to settle upon me after being saturated with news casts of crumpled buildings, dust, distraught survivors, sirens, fires, a toppled cathedral, and bodies in the rubble. I run water, hot water, to wash dishes and thank God for this – a simple, everyday thing which requires major city infrastructure to function and I almost never consider it.

The residents in Christchurch cannot so easily shut off to the disaster. No water, no sewerage system, even no electricity for many. Roads, buildings and bodies broken. Some gone for ever. The interview of a father, a little younger than myself, desperate to help search for his wife in the rubble of a building. In tears he tells the reporter that when his two small daughters asked this morning where mummy is, he could only reply that she was “still at work”. At work, somewhere under that heap of concrete.

Another man tells a different reporter that he is waiting for news of his sister, also a mum, and he asks anyone who is ‘a praying type’ to please pray, “because there is real power in praying you know”. His exact words… faith, even there, even now.

Interestingly, it is now those who claim not to believe in God that are protesting ‘give Christchurch a break’. Who exactly are they addressing? The forces of nature? Even our Prime Minister commented today that “we will not bow to this challenge”. The worldview that there is no God, that chance and randomness rule, causes folks to become hopelessly unstuck when that very randomness and chance strike with force. They shout “unfair” when another earthquake strikes within six months of the first.

There is no reason that can make sense of this event.
No words that can spare our pain.
We are witnessing the havoc caused by a violent and ruthless act of nature…

…We are a resilient nation, and we will not bow down to this challenge.
Prime Minister John Key, 23 February 2011

The great irony is that the Son of God Himself addressed this very issue when asked about senseless deaths:

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
(Luke 13:4-5 ESV)

Jesus debunks the idea that it is because the people who perished were any worse than those who survived, in effect He is saying that tragic events happen, they are not due to God being ‘out to get’ anyone. Judgment will happen at the end and that is when sense will be made of everything. In the meantime some things will seem senseless, there is nothing useful to be achieved by attempting to make them make sense. The difficult work of faith is to refrain from excusing God from having any responsibility by theorizing clever arguments to let Him off the hook, He could have prevented this earthquake, He chose not to. And yes, it doesn’t seem fair.

I didn’t even feel the initial quake yesterday, being 300km away (190 miles) and on my lunch break at the time. Arriving back at work ten minutes after it occurred, my colleagues asked if I felt it. Even then it was evident that it was large and centered near Christchurch. We felt the aftershocks too, I thought of the six stories of concrete above me while watching my computer monitors wobbling and coffee gently sloshing in my cup. There was no reason to think it could not happen here too, no cause for complacent idealism that because I am a Christian I would somehow be spared. Heaving earth and falling concrete give no heed to my theology.