The world burns.  God fiddles. 

The story is told that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.   Never mind that the fiddle as we know it wouldn’t be invented for another 1,500 years. Never mind the accounts of Nero springing into action and returning to Rome from his vacation home when he heard about the fire. He coordinated the response. He imported food for the hungry. He opened public gardens and buildings for those made homeless by the fire.

He took action, and yet history teaches that he fiddled.

With 70% of Rome destroyed by the fire, and half its population made homeless, the devastated residents looked for a scapegoat. Nero, the heartless dictator who killed members of his own family, was easy to blame. It was his fault. He didn’t do enough. He should have done more. When he built a new Golden Palace on the ruins, the people viewed him as more than a fiddler, he was an arsonist. He fanned the flames to serve his own agenda!

The online Oxford Dictionary continues to define the term “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” as “being concerned with relatively trivial matters while ignoring the serious or disastrous events going on around them.”

The story of Nero’s fiddling is myth. The story of our fiddling with trivial matters while ignoring the serious and disastrous events around us is reality.

Record breaking heat in the Arctic this past winter horrified scientists and shrunk the polar ice cap to its lowest ever recorded wintertime levels. Australia’s coral reefs are bleached and dying, victims of the warming oceans. Rising sea waters creep relentlessly into coastal cities around the world.

We fiddle.

We fiddle with the individual songs of our lives, forgetting that each of us play a part in the great orchestra of life on earth. We fiddle as the serious and important business of governing and guiding our nation is turned into a spectator sport, as entertainment, as a soap opera complete with heroes and villains. We fiddle in our obsession over the little ember burning dimly in our neighbors’ eyes, while we ignore the forest fire raging in our own.

We are also arsonists.

We pour gas on the flames heating the globe, literally, every time we pump gas into our cars … when white Americans fail to acknowledge that institutional racism and white privilege exists at all levels of society, limiting opportunity and ending lives … when we spend our money on products and services provided by companies who pay their employees less than a living wage, perpetuating the growing chasm between the rich and poor.

We fan the flames and fiddle as the world burns.

Where is God in all this?  Some might say God, too, is nothing more than a fiddler, sitting by idly while the world goes up in flames.  And they are right to call God a fiddler!

God indeed is fiddling, but not a song of inaction or indifference, but the action God is taking in Jesus Christ! In response to the flames, God passionately, relentless, and graciously fiddles the love song of Jesus Christ to lead hearts and minds from death to life. This song of Christ announces forgiveness and mercy for arsonists and fiddlers. Through confession and repentance, arsonists and fiddlers are called to die with Christ in order to be raised with Christ in resurrection to new lives of healing and justice.

Fiddling the song of Christ, the ancient prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. Matches and gas cans, swords of violence, are beaten into plowshares that turn the old order of sin and death upside down and prepare fields for harvests of peace and justice. Fiddles, spears of indifference, now join the orchestra, the great communion of saints across time and space, in playing the love song of Jesus, the healing song of reconciliation, community, and mercy. Modern day pied pipers leading the faithful towards the flames with dousing waters of baptism, the healing balm of Christ, and the boldness of the Holy Spirit.

God’s fiddling is the work of salvation.  Joined to the love song of Christ, the faithful die to self and are raised to life for community.   In the face of the flames we see this around us.  Thoughtful citizens are making daily decisions for the health of planet. Courageous activists are standing up, speaking out, and organizing responses to the flames. Creative public leaders are enacting new policies that become sprinklers and firehouses dousing the fire.

Yes, God fiddles the love song of healing and salvation found in Christ.  For Christians, it is our only hope.