Say ‘Yes’ to God
This week we learned that prisoners are to be allowed to vote. European human rights legislation has decreed that not to allow them to do so is a breach of their human rights. This is the era of political correctness. Some people are now afraid of calling a black bin bag or a school blackboard such. A job advertisement was rejected because it asked that applicants should be very reliable and hard-working. This was held to be discriminating again unreliable workers. It is said that Thomas the Tank is sexist and proclaims a rigid class system and a conservative political ideology. Muslims are allowed to say words like Allah and Ramadan in public but Christians are prohibited from using words like Jesus and Christmas.
The conduct of the landowner in Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard would not be acceptable to Bob Crow or any other union leader. I remember when I was a student working on building sites during the summer months. On one job we were joined by a gang of Irish labourers. One told me they were paid ‘ a foiver a day - foive an’ a half days’. In Jesus’ parable, some workers were given the equivalent of a ‘foiver a day’ to bring in the grape harvest. Some started at 6 00 am. Others started at 9 00 am. The landowner needed extra help and got more in to work at mid-day. The weather was closing in so he hired more men at 3 00 pm. And then in a final push he gave some still unemployed men one hour’s work at 5 00 pm. He paid them all the same wage. Can you imagine doing that in British Leyland Bathgate 30 years ago? Can you imagine the post office workers tolerating such a regime at Livingston sorting office?
Then as now, the men who had worked all day were not happy. They grumbled and complained. But the landowner rejected their moaning on the grounds that they had agreed to work for a ‘foiver a day’. If he, knowing that unemployed labourers needed a wage for their families, was generous enough to give those who had only worked part of the day a full day’s wages, why were they complaining? It is the negative, mean-spirited attitude that Jesus is criticising as the message of the parable.
Recently, there was a speight of letters in the newspapers about the part that Christian Faith played in the rescue of the Chilean miners. Media stories recorded the fact that the miners had held regular daily prayer meetings and some had personally prayed to, relied upon and had faith in God rescuing them from their ordeal. On reaching the surface a number of them knelt in thanksgiving prayers and some carried and waved Bibles. Some atheists reacted to all this. In The Scotsman Andrew Morton, for example, wrote, 'I’d be interested to know why (God) does not bother to rescue the 2,000 miners who die in China every year….And what of the thousands who died in the Pakistani floods - innocent children too…absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural'.
One of my own letters read, 'José Henríquez led his fellow miners in prayer every evening of their entombment. When Mario Sepulveda emerged from the mine he said', 'I was with God and I was with the Devil, they fought me, but God won. He took me by my best hand, the hand of God and I held on to him. I never thought for one minute that God wouldn't get me out of there'. Others knelt in prayerful thanks on reaching the surface. Chilean President Pinera thanked God for the blessings and faith he and the men experienced throughout the ordeal.
With astonishing arrogance! Andrew Morton makes no mention of these facts. His reasoning is unscientific. Even sniffy Sally Magnusson referred to the ‘religious’ aspect of the rescue on BBC Radio last Sunday morning. Christian testimony has the nature of witness in a court of law. Most of human life takes place outside laboratories.
Andrew Morton and the atheists are like the complaining workers in the parable. They have no place for the positive, for the generous, they cannot find it in themselves to be thankful that something really good happened. They reject the personal witness of the miners themselves although it was the miners who were down the mine and who were saved. They reject their personal faith and that fact that it worked for them and in a time of life and death, they experienced the presence of God. Atheists cannot just say, 'Well - I don’t understand or accept this for myself - but if this works for you, good and well'. They are more hostile. The want to obliterate all references to God throughout our entire culture, homes, schools, colleges, universities, media, everywhere. So the testimony of the Chilean miners embarrassed and angered them. They had been making good headway in Britain opposing Christianity and cutting it out of public life. This was a stumbling block for them.
So Andrew Morton asked why God does not rescue miners in China and where was God in the Pakistani floods? These questions show an introverted and ungracious mindset. But - they are also good questions which need to be answered as far as is possible. Firstly, China is not a Christian country with a Christian President. Most Chinese are not Christians, though it is possible that there have been some Christian Chinese miners who have been killed in mines there. There is a strong underground Christian movement although it tends to be centred in the cities rather than rural areas. There may be anything from 40 - 80 million Protestants in China and 12 - 15 million Roman Catholics. Human life is not valued in China as it is in Christianity. In Christianity each human life is measured by Jesus’ death for each of us. That motivated the Chilean President, a Christian himself, to be 100% involved in and committed to the rescue attempt; he himself was inspired to do this extraordinary thing for at the outset there was no political capital to be gained. So God inspired human beings to do everything they could to rescue the miners. The miners were kept sane by their faith that God knew and loved them. That is the Gospel. That is the Christian message. This was a central part to the whole possibility of rescue. The poor Chinese miners most probably did not have that faith or assurance. And the Chinese miners knew that no-one would try too hard to rescue them and that they did not have the technology to do so anyway. One Chilean miner said that the first camera probe was going to miss the place where they were but almost accidentally pierced the wall from the side not from the top. Services of prayer were held by relatives every day throughout the miners’ entombment. The American expert driller Davitt McAteer whose tunnel succeeded ‘just happened’ to be watch TV when the story broke and he knew that he had the technology to help. What may be just good luck or coincidences to some, are prayer answers to others. But it is what the Chilean miners themselves said about God that matters most. A footnote is that the miners’ suffering was not a natural disaster. It was caused by bad health and safety regulation. It was a human fault and failing.
The Pakistani floods have been on an enormous scale. This was a natural disaster. Some experts have put it down to climate change and global warming. If that is true, it cannot be blamed on God. Again, life in Muslim countries is not valued as much as life in Christian countries. We see that in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We see that in the wholesale murder of Muslim by Muslim. Nothing new about that. Since its inception Islam has been murderous and nothing has changed.
The Pakistani Government has not cared enough to organise sufficient help for its suffering people. Rich Muslim countries have not sent enough funds to their fellow Muslims to save their lives. The United Nations has not had enough resources to meet the people’s needs. Why has God not helped more? Maybe God cannot get through to human hearts and minds enough. Islam has a fatalism at its hearts 'Insha’ Allah' - 'God wills' - which accepts things rather than transforms them. Christianity is a transforming energy in the world. After resurrection, nothing is impossible.
The labourers in the parable were moaners. They could not acknowledge the landowners generosity towards their fellow labourers. Atheists today are moaners. They cannot recognise the positive role that Christian Faith plays in people’s lives. There are plenty of moaners in churches, including this one. Everyone from time to time may doubt God’s love for them. Say ‘Yes’ to God. If you are tempted to give up Christian faith - say ‘Yes’ to God. If you are giving in to doubt and scepticism, say ‘Yes’ to God. Remember that Abraham said, ‘Yes’ to God. So did Samuel and Isaiah and Ruth and Mary and Paul. Christianity is about saying ‘Yes’ to God. Our Lord Jesus said ‘Yes’ to God and went to Calvary. We remember Him here today. God said ‘Yes’ to Jesus and He rose from the dead. We celebrate that today. In all your life and in Church, say ‘Yes’ to God.
God says ‘Yes’ to you.