* We might also add: ‘How could a merely material universe, which is impersonal, come up with something that is at times so emphatically and unambiguously cruel—even vicious and plainly evil—about which pantheism’s stoic platitudes (‘… circle of life etc.’) begin to sound and feel suspiciously convenient: a cop-out in fact. For this kind of wound has a poignantly personal quality about it that shouts to us, ‘Whether you like it or not, you live in a personal universe, and right now something deeply personal is happening and to talk any other way about it is to sell out on every myth, every fairy story and every baby who was ever born—to sell out on any shred of integrity in the message of Christmas and Easter.’

* In light of the previous observation about the dark side of this deeply personal universe, the introductory statement about ‘moving into a new neighbourhood and looking for the right shops’ would have to be told very differently if we were living in the developing world for example. We might just be thinking about, ‘a good place to hide’ or ‘a place to get a bowl of rice.’ You might be doing literal ‘spying’ activities to see if they ‘kidnap or don’t kidnap children’, ‘rape or don’t rape the women’ and ‘shoot or don’t shoot the men’. Interestingly, ‘the problem of pain’—although it is taken very seriously and a source of great anguish—is not so much of a faith-issue for those who live under these conditions. As an African preacher once famously said to a group of Australians, ‘Unlike you, we know we need God in Africa.’ And even the use of the plural ‘we’, comes more naturally from the mouth of a speaker in the developing world (actually should probably say, ‘the majority of the world’), although of course in this context the African was just talking of ‘we’ in the same way that any overseas visitor would speak to their new friends about their country. The fact is that they think and talk about faith in an ancient, deeper and truer context, which always implies love (of the self-giving kind) that happens most emphatically in a family and a community, whereas our artificial western ‘purely individual’ construct cannot really experience and express that kind of love. When it talks of love, what it really means is choosing those I like to be around and then ‘loving’ them: the ‘kidding yourself’ version of love. Returning to our friends in the developing world, their ‘nose and ear’ for truth is therefore both communal and intensely practical. It wants to know: ‘Does this god do miracles for us? Does this god give us food? Will this god bring love and justice to our family and our community? By the way, if you are wondering about all these miracle stories that keep coming from these places, bear in mind the fact that ‘experiences of great miracles and of great suffering are mostly crowded together throughout history,’# so if we long for one (of the miracles) we must also understand that the other comes with it.

# CS Lewis