There Is No Need To Doubt
Psalm 20 is a wonderful read at the start of another year. Living as a minority group in this country, Christians are surrounded by discouragements to Faith. It’s not just the blatant anti-Christian propaganda that concerns us. You could argue that it is the least of our troubles because it is so obviously biased and unsubtle. Of more importance is the way our society now works, the values that are expressed and the disconnect between today’s way of life for the majority and those who seek to live by and follow Jesus Christ.
The BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics is a Muslim, Aaqil Ahmed and he has used his position to enlarge the profile of Islam as you would expect. But now he is to have less freedom to commission programmes as his post is to be merged with other posts to save money. Religion is to make an unlikely alliance with science, business issues and history under the oversight of a new head of 'factual' programming. Emma Swain, the controller of factual commissioning on BBC Television, wrote to staff last week to announce that several roles were to be merged because the department would be commissioning 'less hours' [sic] to cut costs. Mr Ahmed has been told he can apply for the new role and will continue to oversee in-house production of religious programmes. 'The proposed restructure of Factual commissioning will deliver significant savings and increase creativity and collaboration, enabling the best ideas to get on screen. Aaqil Ahmed's role as Head of in-house Religion & Ethics Production is not affected by the restructure'. One Anglican Bishop criticised the move saying 'there does seem to be an ignorance in some areas, or an assumption that religion doesn’t matter, that it’s just a problem. How are they going to ensure that religion isn’t just the fag end for someone who has something more interesting to do?'
The University of Oxford has recently written a circular to its staff requiring them not to use gender titles such as Mr and Mrs any more. Children in Scottish schools are being instructed in gender fluidity. Jewish people are beginning to leave this country fearing that it is no longer a safe place to live. Jewish students at universities are afraid to identify themselves. The two sources of this discomfort are Islamic students and the anti-Israel political left. There is extraordinary bias in political reporting on the BBC, ITV and Sky. And there is the parallel universe of entertainment, soap operas, dramas, fantastic beasts, monsters, aliens and apocalypses which are given so much prominence that many consider them to be real. 'Princess Leah dead', screamed newspaper headlines and even sober TV news programmes headed their broadcast with the same item. The disproportionate exposure given to the deaths of George Michael and David Bowie made absolutely no sense to many.
The political, polling industry is wholly discredited and reporters and pundits have been exposed for knowing very little about what is happening in the world while pretending that they do. Glasgow University theology students are being warned in advance that they may see distressing images while studying the crucifixion of Jesus, giving them a chance to leave if they fear being upset. It is part of a trend at a number of universities for ‘trigger warnings’ issued by tutors to let students know about course content that might prove disturbing. Advocates say it helps to protect the mental health of vulnerable students. Critics say the warnings about the crucifixion are pandering to a generation of students who need to toughen up. Critics say it is creating a generation of ‘snowflake’ students unable to cope with the harsh realities of the world. The University of Glasgow, part of the elite Russell Group, confirmed that trigger warnings are issued to theology students studying ‘Creation to Apocalypse: Introduction to the Bible (Level 1)’. According to university documents, a lecture on Jesus and cinema sometimes ‘contains graphic scenes of the crucifixion, and this is flagged up to students beforehand’. Meanwhile wonderful scientific developments such as those in sound wave technology which can significantly lessen the effects of Parkinson’s disease and also mitigate prostate cancer are given much less prominence in news bulletins. These are only a very few examples of the lack of root and value in our society when it is not grounded in Christianity. But that does not mean that we should despair or be inhibited or discouraged in our faith.
Psalm 20 reads 'May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests. Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God'. This is the personal testimony of one who lived in a one to one relationship with God. This is what the Lord does for us when we trust in Him. I am amazed at how negative people are. I met a chap in the shopping centre one morning recently. 'Whit a terrible morning', he said. I replied, It’s not terrible, it’s decent morning – a good morning to be alive'. If we invest our daily living with the life and power of the resurrected Jesus, then we can negotiate whatever comes to us with the hope of sharing in Christ’s victory. Remember – Jesus was not just victorious over physical death – he said himself 'I have overcome the world'. He had not let the world get to him, break him, ruin him, defeat him. And we should never do so either. We can live in his strength and within his purpose.
Christianity’s role in the world is to lift us up – lift us out of the normal run of existence and see and recognise the high and better direction that is possible in Christ. In Mark’s account of The Transfiguration of Jesus we see that Peter in particular found all this a bit too much. 'After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus'. It was too definite for him, too real. He couldn’t cope with it and he didn’t have the mental resources to process it properly. We’d probably be the same. All he could bluster was that he could build some small cairns to remember the place and occasion by. In other words he tried to make this powerful spiritual event into a physical one which he could control. And maybe that is the key that unlocks the spiritual door. It is required of us to surrender our faculties at least temporarily in order to receive the presence and blessing and knowledge of the living God in Jesus Christ. If we do, we are indeed born again into a new and better relationship with God. How often though, do we - within minutes of the end of worship – return in conversations to things we know and have a measure of control over. Nothing new in that. It is recorded In Exodus 24:11 'that God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank'. A funeral service is not thought complete without the provision of food and drink. A little while thinking about the end of life and living is comforted with a meal. That’s what we do – we human beings.
But Peter later understood the meaning of the Transfiguration experience he had shared in. He recalled this in his 2nd Letter. 'For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain'. Peter’s written testimony is important. Yet his two letters are not prominent in the New Testament compared with those of St Paul. We are familiar with the rivalry of Peter and John when they were disciples as recorded in John 20 and 21 in particular. John tells us that he was a faster runner than Peter. Being told by Jesus that he would be crucified Peter wanted to know what is to happen to John and Jesus tells him to mind his own business. Peter and Paul were also at odds in the first years of the Christian Church. Paul thought Peter was weak and vacillating and inclined to keep Christianity within Judaism rather than set it free to reach the whole world. Paul won that argument. At the end of Peter’s second letter, Peter has a dig at Paul. 'Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction'.
But in these three portions of Scripture we have the record of real people who experienced God at first hand. And there have been many since. So let us rejoice and be thankful that we also are within the kind and personal providence of our Maker. It is given to us to know the risen Lord Jesus and to love and follow and service Him. Let us do so with hope and confidence with commitment and generosity and with unwavering faith in his love for us and in his salvation.