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FEAR AND HOPE

In my superior English manner, I’ve often marveled at the ability of people to get scared by threats of terrorists and bombs and goodness knows what. Of course I was a young lad during World War 2, and perhaps the reality of bombs falling from the sky became part of my early experience. The Irish Republican Army and its predecessors had been blowing British people up from the time when Victoria was Queen. So when I watch politicians working on the fears of ordinary people, I want to wring their necks. I in no way downplay the trauma of 9/11 on America’s psyche, but in a sense that has something to do with America’s isolated innocence and her hope for the world.

As a lad I loved the Compline lesson which describes the devil making a dreadful noise as he/she looks for someone to destroy. Up comes the bed sheet. I’m safe under the covers. From St. Peter’s standpoint the world looks a rather dangerous place after all. Perhaps those who warn of disaster in the world or disaster in the church have a point? After all there’s a whole pile of daily examples to cite just to show how bad things are. They are real; or at least some of them are real. No wonder our ecclesiastical Uncle Burps sit before their computers and moan, while Uncle Sid, watches the latest from Iraq or Washington DC.

There are of course those on the other extreme. To them all is good. Eden remains. All that is needed is a few self-help courses, some positive reinforcement and a grand plan to feed the world, and Glory will be here. Those who point out obvious examples of sheer wickedness are part of the problem. I do not doubt that tackling poverty is a desperate necessity and might, just might make the world “better”, but whether it will make the world less selfish, less confrontational, less envious is quite another matter.

Christians are pessimistic optimists. They believe that the world, yes, the world, and not just “bad people” needs to be made over. It’s as bad as that. Everyone needs to be made new, even those who think they have been made new and particularly those who are darn sure they are more virtuous than others. The world is a shambles. Uncles Burps and Sid are right. No amount of program or budget, system or project, act of legislation is going to unshamble the world fundamentally.

On the other hand it is God’s purpose to restore Eden and God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Nor does that mean that we abandon our programs and budgets, projects and legislation and sit back while God works. The balance is understanding that our proposals also need a radical make over. How do we get truth and unity in the church together? How do we balance justice and mercy? Well I think I know that we all have to be delicate with the justice side. We are much too likely to be unjust. These contradictory aims are really no such thing, but when we decide to choose one rather than the other, we get neither.

An old missionary hymn begins with the words, “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.” It is God who is working his purpose out and we need to be in that purpose. That takes a bit of humility.

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