All Shall Be Well? by William Challis
Andrà Tutto Bene – looking for views of my favourite city, Venice, on YouTube revealed that across the doors of many closed shops and restaurants people have left posters with this slogan – ‘All will be well’ is my best shot at translating it. Doubtless it is an unconscious reflection of a famous saying from the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich – ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’ Julian, of course, is herself reflecting on Paul’s words in Romans 8 v.28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
So, is this just blind optimism? All will be well? Really? Are people in Venice simply howling in the dark in the face of an unknown, deadly adversary? Are Christians thoughtless optimists? Well, Julian of Norwich certainly was not. Her conviction that God held the future and was working out his good in it was matched by a conviction that God is present in human suffering; indeed, she goes on about suffering at great length, sometimes, I think, unhelpfully. Be that as it may, she is not a blind optimist. Neither, of course, is Paul. Romans 8 speaks of our ‘present sufferings’ and of the ‘groaning’ which is part of the human experience. But both Julian and Paul are convinced that God is not just present in our suffering, but working out his ‘good’ through it. He is both crucified and risen.
Neither of them, of course, says that God is working out what we would want or like, nor that he is working so that everything will be exactly the same on the other side of our ‘present suffering.’ God’s good may well be very different from our conception of ‘good,’ but our conception of ‘good’ will always be deformed by our damaged understanding and desire.
So, how should we be praying through the Coronavirus Crisis? Not just, I think, that God’s will be done, although we should pray that, but that we might enter into his good, and be prepared for the change that will lie on the other side of this crisis. Things will change, because, when God is at work, things do change. If we seek a return to ‘business as usual,’ we may well miss the new things God wants to do. Perhaps the biggest thing God wants to change is our attitudes. As was eloquently expressed late last night on BBC R3 (it gets very hard work once the music stops at 2200, but sometimes it is worth continuing to listen…) we may find that God is challenging us to give up our worship of the ‘god of the economy.’ The speaker on R3 did not go on to say what I want to add as a Christian, that we should be praying that, through the crisis, people might come to worship the true God, and that all of us might be renewed in faith that focuses on loving God and loving our neighbour, rather than our faith being fitted into our life as an extra to our worship of ‘the god of the economy.’
This sort of prayer is not easy; as I said in yesterday’s post, it will involve lament, and a deeper entering into the mystery of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The closer we experience that union with him, the richer our prayer and the more powerful our discovery of God’s ‘good.’ In Him andrà tutto bene.