Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

‘Honour the emperor’

It is easy for me to write this as a middle class, white Brit for whom oppression is not something I’ve ever directly had to put up with. My response is therefore more theoretical than what faces people who are already reporting the sorts of post-Brexit hate we had here. I hope I would always seek solidarity, not safety.

Prayer

We spent last night at Central London Vineyard in solid prayer, bothering God about the state of the world.
 
It was challenging. Challenging to reflect on our own divided country as well as the one across the Atlantic. Challenging to think that most of the world’s desperate people don’t care who’s in the White House or what the EU looks like. And very challenging to hear first hand testimony of recent events in Calais and the treatment of those unaccompanied children who had found some small refuge in the Jungle.
 
And in all of that it was challenging to respond to the words of Jesus:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’
So much of what I’ve found difficult about 2016’s politics has come from the rejection and fear of ‘the other’. And yet I’ve probably responded to people with whom I have a fundamental difference of position by reflecting a similar level of antipathy (or worse) about them as people, as well as their ideology.

Challenge

On Tuesday evening our Croydon Vineyard small group were picking over the second half of 1 Peter 2. It talks about submitting to authority, even (and especially) if it oppresses you. It even includes the three words ‘honour the emperor’.
 
Reading that the other day wasn’t easy; returning to it last night after Donald Trumps’s victory was even harder. But there was something very powerful (and even hope filled) in wrestling with what it means for God to desire relationship with Donald the man, just as much as he does with me, and you.
 
When you get down to it, the ground is flat at the foot of the cross – there is no hierarchy of sin, no category of holier, no singling out as worst. Of course it offends us to think that there’s no difference between me and him but the message at the heart of what I believe is to love the person I’d not even consider worth acknowledgement, and to love them sacrificially.
 
Last night someone used a turn of phrase that stuck with me: ‘Love never changes. Love always wins. Love looks the same today as it did yesterday, and will do tomorrow’.
 
As individuals that’s an important attitude of the heart and it’s important that we live it out in our relationships with others. But in the midst of everything it’s pretty overwhelming to think about how broken the world is, how frightening particular politics are, and how little we can do by ourselves.
 
Which is why God invites us to be part of The Church so that with him, and each other, we can be a movement seeking God’s kingdom on earth – not to build a theocracy but to be united in pursuing justice and mercy with a loving humility that’s backed by our trust in God as Sovereign.

Response 

None of us know what the next few years will bring. There is plenty to fear. But fear is the currency of oppression. I’m choosing hope over fear, light over darkness, love over hate, action over apathy. But right now, I’m going back to the source and looking to God for this to be recognisable  for everyone, everywhere:
 
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Cost Benefit

Recently there have been a number of journalists writing articles about church, God and Christianity. Oddly they’ve not all been entirely negative. Since Dave flagged up Matthew Parris’ thoughts from last month I’ve come across, or been pointed towards, other things most notably here and here.

Nice to see that we Christians are capable of being presented in a positive light. Of course the articles are imperfect and there are things to which we Christians, and those heathen others, could pick on. Problems in their reasoning, or their misconceptions or their opinions but nevertheless these are articles which are refreshing.

Coupled to that refreshment is the wonder of the internet where anyone can hold forth on anything (just like this). And, even better, people can take their cue from what someone has written to delve deeper into the issues at hand.

Predictably, some of the articles have descended into thinly veiled arguments over “my absence of God is better than your God” and vice versa. Clearly, my bias lets me take the undoubtedly condescending, self-righteous and arrogant position that my God is better than the absence of Him but that’s another discussion. And one which tends towards going round in circles generating heat rather than light.

What’s caught my attention is the following remark…

Both atheists and believers have done evil things (China’s cultural revolution to today’s Jihadists to name just some). But I do feel that if one were to do a ‘cost/benefit’ analysis of the two camps- the atheists would have the higher moral ground because we have contributed a lot more to science in general and in particular, the pursuit of life saving medicine.

An interesting thought and not one that I feel particularly well qualified to discuss from the point of view of the premise that, looking at contributions to science, theists have had less impact than their atheist fellows. My gut reaction is that given the durability of Christianity, 2,000 years of thought, invention and design inspired and informed by those worshipping God does not suddenly get undone by a louder atheistic presence (which of course is nothing new).

In terms of the moral high ground, however, it’s a position that doesn’t show much appreciation of history. The reality, however much we appeared on earth by chance or hold that morality is simply something that occurs naturally, is that it took a very long time for people to think that other people were important.

In Genesis 34 we read about Dinah and the Shechemites. Basically, Dinah, daughter of Jacob (sister of Joseph, he of dressing gown fame) gets defiled by Shechem. The response is brutal and savage, just have a read. It’s that kind of an environment into which Moses speaks in Leviticus 24.

Here’s a culture that practices rampant, and disproportionate violence being told, in no uncertain terms that actually, if you’re going to exact vengeance it should be in correlation to what went on. I appreciate that a stoning for a blasphemy is arguably disproportionate in itself but stick with me (no doubt this will be something to explore at a later date).

You get the whole idea of punishment and revenge turned on its head by Moses. And that persists for quite some considerable time. In fact up until Jesus.

In Judaic culture you were very keen on helping your family, and your tribe but that was where it ended. You helped those you liked. You helped those who might help you back. The concept of the neighbourhood was a closed one.

And history is full of city states, tribes and kingdoms setting off to war against its non-kindred neighbours. Now whilst the thirst for power and the quest for domination didn’t end with Jesus the whole idea of what being neighbourly meant didn’t so much end as finally got the point. If, in the years after that we’ve carried on as before it doesn’t mean Jesus was lying, just that we might not have been paying enough attention.

Because if we read Matthew 5 it’s blatant what Jesus is saying. This is a beautiful exposition of why vengeance is not what’s best for us and specifically Jesus takes to task the idea that ‘an eye for an eye’ is. Instead he says that the best way to respond when someone does you wrong is to take it and offer the chance for them to wrong you further.

Madness.

A madness that only gets worse in Luke 10 when a young lawyer says, so Jesus, how is it that I get eternal life? As ever, Jesus gets him to answer the question himself, whereupon he retorts that you need to love God with everything and to love your neighbours as yourself. Although the answer impresses Jesus the young man wants clarity and says but, who’s my neighbour?

With the result that Jesus unleashes the Parable of the Good Samaritan on a truly unsuspecting world. This is the point when the limits on charity, on love and on compassion get undone. When Jesus becomes not just a Messiah for the Jews but effectively declares salvation for all. The moment from which the early church takes the inspiration to turn the world on its head outside of the Jewish nation. The point when all the good which has happened through Christian endeavour can find its point of conception.

Who’s my neighbour? It’s that person you hate; the one you share nothing in common with; the guy who is something you would hate to be.

Had Jesus not been the one to institute that new covenant based on a relationship with God that flourishes in relationship with others then maybe someone else would have done at a later date. But no matter how much cynicism is poured onto the Biblical Jesus it’s not an idea that pops up elsewhere. This is something attributed to him before anyone else.

Of course the church and Christians haven’t always lived this out and that is to our corporate regret and shame. But it’s workmen rather than tools and whilst I’ll see your Crusades and Inquisition it bears raising you the 20th century secular leaders who are no less, if not more, responsible for suffering than the carnage of antiquity.

So if we keep those events out of it in recognition that death by conflict is motivated by a thirst for power irrespective of faith, or none, and return to the cost/benefit analysis it’s difficult to agree with the original premise. As I said I can’t comment on science, but the sweeping generalisation has certainly agitated Mrs Wellers, instead I can look at the history of selfless love (read charity). And through that lens Jesus’ idea of neighbourhood, community and revenge becomes a world altering idea that strikes the Father of all blows for morality, for transforming lives, for putting hope into the middle of dark places.

But then I am exceptionally biased aren’t I?

Good Friday