This is a strange time, when the news is full of personal and national tragedy, the sporting calendar continues apace and the national mood is either elated of sunk in depression, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Not being particularly sporting myself, most of its content passes me by and those sports that do interest me are not covered. As to the spate of national emotion-mongering, I do wonder why one person’s emotions and personal expressions of joy, grief or anger may count while another’s are ignored. Is there a quota of views to be covered, or of personal profiles that must be seen to be expressed?
This may be rather cynical – certainly contrarian – but it does point to a national obsession with the self and to follow that, the projection of the correct and most appealing self-image. Reality has become subjective – but only certain kinds of subjectivity seem to count. It depends on who is saying it and is seen to be saying or acting – rather than the merits of what is said.
Now one person’s view of sport or art may legitimately vary from another’s but what happens when this is transferred to matters of right and wrong? Can our sense of good and evil also be reduced to subjective judgment and if so, is this the way to manipulation, distortion and abuse? Does it become a new social norm, to be crossed at personal hazard if not peril? This has happened before, under more authoritarian regimes, but are we also succumbing to it? And if there is no generally accepted set of standards of national and persona life, then can anything be presented as being acceptable?
Now the waters become deep, murky and treacherous. It ends up with freedom becoming control, variety losing its edge and becoming conformity. Even ‘edgy’ humour loses its definition and the jokes are somehow all pointed in the same direction. What had become preoccupation with self, morphs into the suppression of all other voices and the emergence of only one permissible and repeatable set of values.
This is where I have to restate some essentials. If our conclusions flow from our assumptions and subsequent thought processes, then if we start with self and stay with self, then at the end of it all, self is all that we have: for eternity. If we start with God and continue with and in Him, then by definition we will end up with God, in all His fulness. If we try to play the odds and make humanity the starting point and the measure of all that follows then we will end up with the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. But there will be no place for God, and the self will also be submerged in the mass-outcomes that will follow. The killing fields, gulags, townships and concentration camps, to the background of the most tasteful art forms imaginable. But no God, no forgiveness, no mercy.
I think that another approach is needed, and in this I find that Jesus Christ is central and eternal. In His self-identification as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd and the Gateway to the Sheepfold, He unquestionably directs our attention and loyalty to Himself. Yet in going to the cross, He has performed a history-changing act of self-giving and self-denial. Nobody goes to the cross in order to fulfil or to validate oneself. Jesus did so in order to validate us while yet sinners and to open to us a gateway to new perspectives, new hopes, new loyalties and relationships and new life.
In Him we live, move and have our being. In Him is our standing with God is as beloved children rather than guilty sinners. Yes, we will all have our issues and unresolved questions but then the life of faith is ongoing, and Jesus described us as being joined with Him just as the branches are joined with the vine. The source of nourishment has changed and the character and quality of the fruit have changed.
But there is still that process of being cared for, husbanded and pruned by the gardener, so that what is good can be improved and what is not can be pruned off. In Him we live, move and have our being. And we do not have to be oppressed by our own selves, our self-images or even our regrets.