There is a strong sense of confusion abroad, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. It is there in politics, the economy, social life and in culture. Much of what has not been locked down is defensive, insecure, and reduced to confusion. What was once taken as read is now questioned, as the sins of previous generations are visited on their descendants. And even that can be selective. Happily, we do not have the hyper-inflation of the Weimar days but I wonder whether there is a similar sense of resentment, arising of course from wholly different sources but leading – well, who knows where?
There are the divisions of the nations of the land against each other, of north against south, city against country, London against everywhere else, tensions between cultural groups divided by race, education, occupation, and aspiration. And these divisions then fuel claims, demands for compensation, self-government, release from constraint, even release from rationality in favour of emotional satisfaction.
Some of this comes from a form of self-identity with one sort of minority or another, as we invest our faith in institutions, ideologies, perceived resentments or claims for redress. A confident society would be able to look at each claim compassionately as regards the people and yet dispassionately as regards the facts. It would think through its remedies, looking at the costs and opportunities offered by any particular course of action, but just now I do not think that this is where we are as a society.
Identity as Christians however gives us another way of looking at things. The perspective starts with God and this is enhanced as we look at Jesus, who came so that we might see God as far as our limited senses and understanding would allow. Remove this starting point and the outcome is liable to be chaotic, unjust, and possibly violent.
But Jesus Himself says much about who we are and where we are going. In John 17, He says a lot about His standing with God, and this is the basis for our standing in Him. It is never that we contrive God to meet our own requirements, for to enter fellowship with God in Jesus Christ is also to embark on a journey of challenges and of taking up a cross and carrying it. This is not the stuff of contriving a religious system to meet our own convenience.
But Jesus is drawing us to Himself, where we may both lose our sense of self-importance and yet find ourselves as His disciples, chosen and loved, trusted and blessed even within the turbulence of our times. When Jesus says ‘I in them and Thou in Me that they may be made perfect in one,’ (John 17: 23) He is not playing word-games or spinning riddles. Equally, when He says that He consecrates Himself for us (John 17:19) He is again totally for real.
St Paul expresses it in writing to the church in Ephesus when He says that they – and we with them, are ‘Chosen before the foundation of the world … to be holy and blameless before Him’ (Ephesians 1: 4) and with this in mind he prays for them to be ‘strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, that they may be rooted and grounded in love … to be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
If our vision of only of the here and now, the division of the spoils and privileges of power, then these will all decline and diminish as our own faculties also fade.
But the point is that there is an alternative vision, whose price is already paid and whose fulfilment is in the heart and hands that have already been pierced, but which rose again.