What peace is there for tarnished lives (website only)

What peace is there for tarnished lives,
when love is challenged, hate survives?
Remember in that Upper Room,
Christ came and offered peace.

What peace for Peter who denied
his friend who hung, his friend who died?
And yet within that Upper Room
Christ came and offered peace.

What peace for those who slept away,
while Jesus sweated blood to pray?
And yet within that Upper Room
Christ came and offered peace.

What peace for Thomas full of doubt,
with questions hedging all about?
And yet within that Upper Room
Christ came and offered peace.

What peace for those who fled away,
when darkness covered brightest day?
And yet within that Upper Room
Christ came and offered peace.

What peace when we have let God down,
denied God’s call and made God frown?
And yet within this present place
Christ comes and offers peace.

Words: © Stainer & Bell

Metre: 88.86.

Suggested tune: “Saffron Walden (StF 556i)

More information

Thomas touching the wound in Jesus' side

Andrew Pratt comments about the disciple Thomas (see esp. v.4): “He seems to me to be someone who resonates with people of this century, a sensible sceptic who looks for concrete proof but who, when he receives it, accepts it. Also, I go with Sydney Carter who saw doubt (not an exact quote this) as being the soil in which faith finds a footing. Questioning, doubting leads to a deeper, more resilient faith than unquestioning acceptance.

“The story says more about Jesus who does not provide a one answer fits all, but greets the disciples according to need… peace to all, tangible proof for Thomas and a triple affirmation for Peter.”

In discussions about this text, one member of the StF+ Reference Group asked the question: “Does God frown?” (see final verse).

Does Noah's frowning face in the 2014 blockbuster movie mirror the expression of God?

Certainly in the Hebrew Scriptures there are many accounts of God’s anger and indignation, not least in the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 7: 11; Psalm 78: 31). Sometimes that anger is pictured in very human terms – the raised arm, the strike of the face or body (e.g. Isaiah 5: 25). The iconic story of Noah and the flood (Genesis chapters 6 to 9) begins with divine displeasure and, one imagines, the gathering of clouds in the sky – is this God frowning?

Arguably the New Testament understanding of God shifts away from a vengeful being whose retribution is terrible to behold. Nevertheless, Jesus, in whom we come to see God in a new way, also expresses anger or frustration – unexpectedly (and inexplicably?) against a fig tree (Mark 11: 12-14 and 11: 20-25), with his disciples (Mark 8: 12-20) and, most famously, at the money changers in the temple (e.g. John 2: 13–16). These were not the actions of a smiling Jesus.

Andrew’s hymn suggests that, as Christians, our actions or inactions can also cause God to ‘frown’. Of course this is a metaphor for our relationship with God that has been broken, at least temporarily. If we understand our relationship with God to be a personal one then of course we express God’s responses, and our own, in personal, human terms. The poet William Cowper wrote similarly, seeing beyond the ‘frown’ to the grace that lies behind it:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
he hides a smiling face.

(God moves in a mysterious way, StF 104)

Categories: 88.86., Brown, Arthur Henry, Hymns only online (submit to stfplus@methodistchurch.org.uk), Jesus Risen and Ascended, Pratt, Andrew, Repentance and Forgiveness, Saffron Walden.

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