It is quite astonishing how the national landscape has changed over the last two months, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The status of the fourth estate – the tabloid press – has been comprehensively trashed by the telephone hacking scandal at the News of the World and by extension, News International, whose proprietor was summoned to give evidence to a House of Commons committee. Bearing in mind how the press had trashed Parliament in the expenses scandal, it was not to be expected that prisoners would be taken.
Then there was the spectacle of the American President and Congress playing “chicken” over the Federal budget and borrowing limits, in which a face-saving deal was finally concluded but which did not really resolve the outstanding issues.
Next, was the scare that the European Monetary System would implode as the result of un-repayable sovereign debt which endangered the banks and other financial institutions which held it, mainly in France and Germany but potentially affecting UK banks as well. That has not been resolved either, and probably won’t without major constitutional implications for the constituent countries: a European fiscal authority/government?
And if that is not enough, several English city centres were looted and partly torched by rioters.
Not bad for a summer – and this was while most people were on holiday. So what to make of it all?
The published analyses are many and furious – mainly pointing the finger at other people: the failure of leadership, of morality, of the family, of education, of society as a whole. There is some truth in all these aspects and I have no doubt that we will select those which fit most comfortably with our own political and social outlook.
There are however a few strands that I would like to pick out. First, the Psalmist wrote: “There is none that doeth good, no not one” (14:1). This sentiment was echoed by St Paul: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3: 23). What this means is that in criticising others, whether as individuals or institutions, we should have a large mirror in front of us.
Second, Jesus Himself warned that there would be times of severe unrest, when societies and institutions would be shaken. It would occur just before He made His personal triumphant return to earth however we should not be surprised if there are periods of major upheaval before then. In any case, “When these things happen, look up for your salvation draws nigh.” (Luke 21: 28). So we should not be wholly surprised by the upsetting of human institutions and systems, but we should at least prepare ourselves.
These preparations may take several forms: paying off debt where this is possible, and not increasing it; maintaining our relationships with family and friends, and being reconciled with those with whom there are outstanding issues. It may mean learning how to do more with less and how to economise in our consumption. It certainly means spending time with God, in prayer, reading and reflection. It may also mean being ready to help and encourage one another in times of uncertainty and confusion.
Perhaps the greatest lesson in this is that one way or another, other generations have also faced similar times of social and moral confusion and upheaval. It is more than stiff-upper-lip fortitude that is needed: it is also the trust that whatever is before us, we will never be abandoned and we should not fear, even in the darkest of times. This is not a matter of blind or thoughtless optimism so much as the certainty that it is in times of trial that the light of the gospel shines most brightly. Each of us is part of that light, and each of us has a measure of comfort and encouragement to offer to others in need of it. And that may be our task in these times.
May the Lord bless you richly in these challenging days.