Drinking Well


Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. (John 3:16-17)


If you were God, how would you deal with cruel and violent people? What would you do to dictators who exploit their own people and imprison whoever opposes them? What would you do about drug barons who ruin the lives of countless young people? What would you do to violent individuals who attack people on the street or break into their homes and terrorize them in the dead of night?

Any one of us may say: if I were God I would not tolerate their behaviour. I would give them fair warning. Then I would give them an ultimatum: ‘if you do not change your ways, you will face the consequences.’ If they did not change, I would use whatever force was necessary to bring them under control.

But this is not what God does. And it is not what God did in the past. St. John says that God loved the world so much - including the cruel and the violent – that he sent his Son not to condemn but to save people from their own destructive behaviour, and to set them on a new way of living. The only force Jesus used was the force of love. He used no other force either to attack wrong doers or to protect himself from them.

Jesus was not timid. He stood up to the religious authorities and confronted them for the way they treated people. When they opposed him, he did not back down or run away, even when he knew they would have him crucified. At his trial, he was totally unafraid of Pilate, the powerful Roman governor.

Bear with one another’s failings

All of this goes to show how different God is to us, even though he is our Father and we are his children. Yet sometimes there are people who behave like God, and so do we, when we are at our best. Husbands and wives who learn to live peacefully together over a long period of years, also learn to deal with each other’s faults as God does. They stop trying to force each other to change; they become more patient with each other’s failings. This does not mean that they tolerate violent or abusive behaviour, but in their day to day lives they follow God’s word from the Letter to the Galatians: ‘Bear the burden of one another’s failings; then you will be fulfilling the law of Christ.’

I think of parents whose adult children become addicted to alcohol or to drugs. Often the parents will do everything they can to help their child to find recovery. They inform themselves about the nature of addiction, they are careful not to do anything that enables the addict to continue in their addiction; they do not give them money or make excuses for them or shield them from facing the consequences of their behaviour. If they pose a threat to the safety of others in their home, they may have to ask the addict to leave. Yet they do not reject the addict, or use violence against them. They search with them to find professional help. They continue to love them and to be there for them in every way they can.

Unarmed truth and unconditional love

Two people in living memory, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, imitated to an extraordinary degree God’s way of confronting evil with non-violent love. Ghandi, a devout Hindu, was deeply influenced by the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. In 1963 in Alabama, Martin Luther King took part in a civil rights march, which was broken up with great violence by the police and national guard. That night King addressed these words to those who had broken up the march: ‘We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure it. We will not hate you but in good conscience we cannot obey your evil laws. Do to us as you will. We will wear you down. We will not only win our freedom. We will so appeal to your hearts and consciences that we will win you in the process.’ On the following year he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and in his acceptance speech he said, ‘I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.’

On 14 September each year we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. We celebrate the victory of God’s unconditional love over the force of evil - the evil which crucified Jesus and continues to cause untold suffering in our world today. This feast assures us that unconditional love will win out in the end.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.


 Brendan Clifford




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