We were sitting outside the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. A light rain was falling. We huddled underneath a large umbrella and sipped the cups of chai which we had ordered. We needed the warmth from the tea as much as the caffeine, in much the same way that people in England drink tea to dispel the murky chill of February days more than for the actual taste. My son looked around.
“I don’t think God can love people here” he said sadly.
I was surprised by this. My wife and I have made a point of teaching our children that God loves all people equally. This is a fundamental tenet of our Christian faith, and a great number of cruelties in the world can be directly attributed to the mistaken belief that some people are more loved by God than others. I asked him what he meant.
“Look at all the garbage” he said mournfully. “How can God love people when they don’t care for the world he created?”.
I looked around. There was, indeed, a lot of rubbish. Paper cups, empty crisp packets, cigarette packs, crushed juice boxes – the detritus of a thousand tourists was strewn all around the courtyard in front of the mosque. During our train journey to Lahore we had looked out of the window to see immense piles of trash heaped up on the sides of the railway embankments, flung carelessly out of houses and left to fester. It is a part of life in the developing world that we have not yet learned to deal with.
“Well”, I said, “do you remember how Mummy and I told you that we love you always, even when you’re naughty?”.
“We do that because God loves us even when we’re naughty” I continued. “Even when we do bad things, God always loves us. So we should always try to be better”.
He was silent for a while, looking around at the heaps of rubbish strewn around the courtyard of one of the most magnificent mosques in the world. Then he said:
“That’s a lot of love”.