Watching the news in the UK over the last few weeks has been an interesting experience. Tales of horror and darkness, stories of unspeakable crimes and evil. And yet, in the midst of it, shafts of light in the darkness. Pictures of normal people, gathering together to help the wounded, the bereaved and the newly homeless. Pictures of first responders – fire crews, paramedics, police – simply doing their job, and yet doing so much more. And besides these nameless people giving what help they could, anger against the great and the good, against politicians who maybe promise too much and deliver too little.
There is a strange longing in human beings for saviours from above. For figures who will come and solve everything, change everything, lead the way. Politicians, religious leaders, public figures. We often idolise them, but when we realise their powers are sadly limited, we berate them. And so the last few weeks have reminded me of a verse from Zechariah, a verse that names and condemns the temptation to despise the ‘day of small things’.
The whole story of God’s dealings with human beings reflects this tension. Human beings want saviours – military leaders, kings, prophets. People who will make a difference, who will change everything. And yet the story of God is the story of working with the small things. With ordinary people, one person at a time. We even see this tension in the Gospel. As Jesus goes into the desert to be tempted, the devil offers him ‘all the kingdoms of the world’. This is a temptation to be the saviour people want. Someone who will come from above and change everything in the blink of an eye. Someone who will come with power and override everything that is wrong in the world, who will erase resistance and impose a new order, a better way.
But this is not the way of God. Instead, God works with us, not by forcing us into his ways, but by inviting us. It is harder and more time-consuming. Success is often mixed and unclear. Setbacks are frequent. Working with people takes time and persistence. God works in the small things. But it is in these small things, in daily faithfulness and following, in sharing our stories and our lives, that we in turn share in God’s work in the world around us.
The Revd Isabelle Hamley is Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury.