Weekly Meditation: 3rd January 2016
I am writing this towards the end of a very troubled year which has seen the exponential growth of terrorism across the Middle East, and in which we have felt terror’s chill fingers groping even for us in the West. We have seen new heights of fear that have displaced huge populations of desperate people who have risked their lives in flimsy boats, trusting themselves to mercenary traffickers to try to reach a safer place. There have been new depths of cruelty and depravity with the beheading and burning of hostages, the flinging of people from roof-tops, and the abduction of men and women into slavery. By the New Year who knows what further shocking headlines will have been splashed across our newspapers?
What comfort is there in the Scriptures as we face another year? There is no peace along any borders in the Middle East and Psalm 147:12-20 has a hollow ring, speaking as it does of God strengthening the gates of Jerusalem, granting peace to its borders. Similarly, Jeremiah 31:7-14 foretells a time of peace, plenty and prosperity for the land of Israel. So how do we make sense of what looks to be failed promises? Does the Bible really have anything to say into our desperate situation?
Let us look first at our New Testament readings. In John 1:10-18 we meet the saviour, coming into the world unrecognised and unacknowledged by many. He came into a world he had made, to be among people who were his own, but they did not know him. The few who did receive him, though, were blessed beyond measure, receiving the right to be called “children of God” (v 12).
How wonderful for those who first recognised and accepted the Saviour. How wonderful for us who also know and love the one who reveals the Father himself. But we see in this passage the dichotomy between those who truly know the Lord, and those who do not. The spiritual blessings for God’s own children are many – even in this fallen world – and in the world to come they will be boundless. But humans have the choice – to accept or to reject God.
In Ephesians 1:3-14, the blessings of God for his faithful people are reiterated more fully. Long before the creation, God had us in mind, to be adopted as his children. This is not to say that some had been rejected centuries prior to their birth, but simply that God had always known that many would be redeemed to be his own. Nor is our adoption as God’s children as a result of our own efforts – it is through God’s “glorious grace … lavished upon us”. Having received him, we receive also the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance. And so Christians are secure; whatever happens to them, they are safe in the Lord.
This can make Christians sound horribly smug, and unconcerned for all those who for some reason do not know God – because of their family circumstances, the regime under which they were born, the culture of their country, or because life has thrown such things at them that belief in anything good, particularly in an all-powerful God, evades them. What we can be certain of is the mercy and love of God who surely understands the circumstances of each individual. The many who do not know God may well find salvation through his mercy, but how much better to know God now and to receive his comfort as we face trials.
It is not for Christians to judge others; we do not always live up to our name. When we fling up hands in horror at the atrocities committed by ISIS, we should remember the terrible persecution that Christians inflicted on each other and on non-Christians, following the Reformation. But when communities truly live by Godly principles (not rules!) the sort of peace spoken of in Psalm 147 and Jeremiah 31 can come about. The people of whom Jeremiah wrote were to pass through a time of intense testing by being deported into Babylon, before they reached the peace of which he wrote. Psalm 147 is concerning the same people whom God has gathered from exile. These people had learnt their lesson; that is why their peace and prosperity could flourish.
Let us see again the clear dichotomy between those who know God and those who do not. Salvation brings blessings. It may not confer physical wellbeing and safety or prosperity, but it will provide the grace to see each of us through any test. This is not to say that there is a simplistic answer to the issues facing the world now. Psalms and Jeremiah were written when God was establishing his chosen people on the earth to be the nation into which the Messiah was to be born. The world has moved on. Jesus has been born, died and been raised to life. Now God is building the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Jerusalem, where peace will never end.
However, unlikely it may seem in the aftermath of terrorist atrocities, God’s Kingdom is growing. Faithful people are coming to know God through Jesus and claiming the Kingdom for their own. That certain truth is what we must hold on to as we start another year.
By Susan Thorne