We live in violent times
A number of you lived through the 2nd World War. Especially in the early years of the war, there was no guarantee of success or victory. The scale of killing was great and culminated in the dropping by the Americans of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 killing approimately 140,000 and on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 killing approximately 80,000 respectively.
Nothing exactly like that is happening today. However, due to 24/7 media information we know many of the acts of violence that are occurring throughout the world. Our attention is drawn to Afghanistan and still Iraq rumbles on with alarming atrocities such as the suicide bombing of a queue of men seeking recruitment to the Iraqi army this week with 60 - 70 killed and others wounded. It is sickening stuff.
It is not necessarily the scale of violence that matters only but its character. Even violence done to one person can shock all of humanity. 'Time' magazine recently published on its front page a picture of a young woman in Afghanistan called Aisha who had her nose and ears cut off on orders from the Taliban because she ran away from abusive in-laws who treated her like a slave and beat her constantly. The local Taliban commander judged her guilty and ordered her punishment. Aisha’s brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose. Aisha passed out from the pain but awoke soon after, choking on her own blood. The men left her on a mountain side to die - however she survived. All of this took place in 2009. Time’s headline said 'What Happens if we leave Afghanistan'.
Hafiz Hassani is a 30 year old Afghan. He was forced to join the Taliban and worked for their secret police. He was told, 'You must become so notorious for bad things that when you come into an area people will tremble in their sandals. Anyone can do beatings and starve people. I want your unit to find new ways of torture so terrible that the screams will frighten even crows from their nests and if the person survives he will never again have a night's sleep'. He did this - even crucifying people for things such as watching videos, wearing beards not long enough, keeping budgies, playing cards. Sickened by it all he defected to Pakistan and has told his story. He says, 'We have grown used to violence in Afghanistan'. 1.5 million have died - nowhere else in the world is there such brutality and cruelty.
This is what British soldiers are up against - and the Americans and any others willing to send soldiers. The Dutch have left and the Americans have said they will leave next year. The British expect to leave not long thereafter. The Taliban will declare victory and will take industrial scale revenge on their own people. The evil is so complete and so uncompromising that it seems that western military strategy and tactics cannot defeat it. What can Christian soldiers do against such inhumanity? What can liberal secular politicians do? Afghanistan is a job half-done. All that has happened is that a ruthless enemy has been engaged and then a retreat has been ordered. The poor Afghanis themselves will suffer the most.
Nazi evil was worse in its final solution mode. Japanese cruelty to prisoners of war plumbed the depths of human depravity. These nations were defeated in world war. Afghanistan is not a world war, at least, not yet. But we can begin to understand why week in week out, British soldiers are being killed and others terribly wounded. It seems futile - the whole war policy and destined to fail. 1000 American soldiers have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. 335 British soldiers have died and 1180 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan. The estimated total deaths for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on all sides is over 1.1 million.
Away from wars and politics on the streets things are not good either. The murder rate in Scotland has been the fastest rising in western Europe and the sixth fastest in the world, according to a shocking new report by the United Nations published in the Times newspaper. The murder rate in Scotland now stands about 106 murders each year or 2 per week. The rise in Scotland was the sixth biggest in the world, according to the UN survey of 79 nations, behind Bahrain (73%), Jordan (45%), Tajikistan (43%), Armenia (37%) and Mauritius (34%).
On our TV screens we learn of new atrocities every day. Estranged fathers are killing former wives and partners and their own children also. Unusually, in Edinburgh recently an American woman going through divorce proceedings killed her 3 children and then tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. Raoul Moat as you all know went on the rampage before killing himself. There are terrible incidences of the suffering and deaths of small children. Often there are drug related issues with the parents. Feral teenagers murdered an innocent takeaway delivery man in Edinburgh a few days ago. Even children are now being charged with grievous and heinous offences against other children. In England, two 11 year old boys have just been convicted of raping an 8 year old girl. There are now over 13,000 abortions in Scotland each year.
Is there any explanation for this? Do we understand it? Jesus’ words come home to us. 'Because of the increase of wickedness the love of most people will grow cold'. The conduct of every person affects the conduct of all others. It may not seem so but it is. This is especially so due to TV and the internet. Raoul Moat is a hero for some people because he stood up to the Police. Girls follow pop idols and boys follow footballers. Violent computer games unsettle the minds of young people, boys and girls. It’s a far cry from Monopoly. There is a culture of dis-ease which politicians know about but cannot help. If you take something as big as Christianity out of a society, you have a very large hole to fill. If you take Jesus Christ out of a society, you have just lost your best friend and saving influence and all the power and good will of heaven and it shows!
The liberal society does not work as perfectly as its proponents expect but they never admit this. Standards of behaviour inexorably fall and new lows of expectation are established to the shock and embarrassment of decent thinking people. But do we have any answers? We can proclaim the words of the Gospel for ever - 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved'. This is true and works and many, many people throughout the whole world are finding this salvation every day. But few here in Scotland are listening. There is a complete break-down in accepted and recognised values to live by. Even if Christian revival broke through it would not necessarily affect the politics of the day. There is an irreconcilable tension between punishing wrong-doers and trying to rehabilitate them. Most people think that there are insufficient sanctions against crime, especially youth crime. Few of us understand sentencing policy. Life has become cheap. You can deliberately kill someone and serve perhaps only a few years in prison.
In England, a prolific teenage thief, who confessed to almost 700 burglaries but was given a rent-free flat instead of a prison sentence. In an arrangement that was described as "unique", Bradley Wernham, 18, was given the chance to turn his back on his reputation as a "one-man crime wave" when a crown court judge spared him jail in October. He admitted 20 burglaries and then asked for another 640 cases from across Essex running back over six years to be taken into consideration. Despite the confession making him a strong contender for the title of Britain's most prolific burglar, the trial judge, Christopher Ball, QC, ordered him to do just 150 hours of community service and to keep to a curfew. Critics attacked the decision as a "joke" and "incredibly lenient". As part of the deal that secured his release, he was given a flat, paid for by Essex police and social services in Chelmsford, to share with his girlfriend, and was ordered to stay away from his home town, Harlow, where scores of his burglaries took place. He then stole a Porsche and was given a 5 year prison sentence which will, in fact be 18 months.
What do you do? Human rights legislation prevents many alternatives. As Christians we cannot belong to the ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade’. We have to believe in the redemption of lives and souls. We have to offer the second and third chances and more. For our own salvation we need such consideration ourselves. We do not want to be hypocrites or Pharisees. But we need to find some means of re-establishing shared values and conduct. Otherwise more and more laws will be passed restricting the freedoms of the majority of law abiding citizens.
Some people would like to see the death penalty restored. Some would like to see violent young offenders given a taste of their own medicine. We are dealing with the children and grand-children of offenders. They know nothing else. Many have been subject to poor parenting - sometimes appalling parenting. It must be possible to have policies of deterrence which are visible and effective. There is no political will to deal with this. Politicians do not want to appear harsh and judgemental.
We are a long way from our governments coming and saying that what the whole nation needs is Christianity. But our Christianity affects the lives of all others. Our prayers matter and they help. We can show the way in our faith and witness and worship. Never was there a greater need for the churches than in 2010 and this need will increase throughout this century. Don’t give up faith. Don’t give up hope. Don’t give up love. Don’t let you heart become cold. Be warmed by the Pentecostal flame of the Holy Spirit and be revived in mind and soul. Be encouraged and blessed by the presence of Jesus Christ in your hearts and rejoice in His goodness to you all your days.