The headlines seem to become ever more violent and not just because of the events of the day, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The emotions become ever more extreme, the mood swings more pronounced and the personalities vie with one another for prominence and coverage. No criticism is too slight to be ignored or to be inflated into a matter of social outrage.
In some ways it was probably ever thus and yet Jesus Himself gathered a group of disciples who were at best mixed and possibly hostile to one another. So there was Simon the (revolutionary) Zealot and Matthew the Roman-loving tax collector; Simon (Peter) and Andrew with James and John – fishermen and sailors while the others were landsmen. Young James and John and the more reflective and possibly older Nathaniel, and Philip the Greek. So Jesus Himself had to be adept at keeping the peace without compromising His own ministry or message.
In our own days there are nationalists and globalists, all forms of politics form far right to far left, every kind or race and religion, never mind the great varieties of wealth and occupation. All can be reconciled in and by the church and its gospel and yet all have their own kind of momentum to division and separation. And this is where our situation comes into focus for we are all subject to the violence of these extreme opinions and among us there will equally be a great variety of outlook and vision for our country.
Perhaps this is the point: how do we see ourselves and what is the real centre of what we believe and what we are? When the prospect of events offers ever more extreme outcomes and opinions which take less and less account of any attempt at objectivity, there may be a desire to keep the head down and take cover until the storms have passed and a new norm has been established. Indeed, just what is our country anyway, once we have set apart its laws and institutions? Just what kind of unity does its people enjoy?
And yet we are far more than a collection of responses to events over which we have no control. We also have our own identity and purpose and in eachother we can recognise the variety of what makes up the Body of Christ. And yet that identity is centred on Jesus Christ before all else – including the institutional church. More than that, there are the reassurances that in Jesus, God is personally and intimately committed to our lives even when circumstances seem to be so uncertain. And yet if we are focussed on Jesus Christ then we do not have to be subject to every strident call that afflicts us. We will certainly hear those calls but we do not have to be taken up by them.
The psalmist was deeply troubled by the apparent wealth and ease of those who rejected God. They seemed to be so secure and calm, contemptuous in their rejection of things of faith. And where was God in all this? And yet he says ‘Until I went into the Sanctuary of God …’ (Ps 73:17) ‘… and then I understood their end …’ For God does indeed overrule the affairs of the world but He does into in His own time and yes, it can take a couple of generations. Think of Revolutionary France, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Yes, these godless regimes were indeed overthrown even if the generations that gave rise to them passed with them or suffered grievously.
Yet if God can and does overrule in such times then there is no doubt that His eyes are also on ours, with all our confusions and distortions and uncertainties. For us the task is to continue to abide in Him and to support one another. It is to never lose heart and to pray without ceasing. The light shining on the lampstand may be ignored in the daylight but it is at night that it comes into its own. And we know how Jesus compares His disciples with lampstands.
Yes, these are alarming times, but our security is not in the rip-tides of opinion but in the assurances of Jesus Christ – and I know who I would rather trust.