Just at the right place, at the right time.
'We were just tourists in Salisbury.' The men known to us as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshiro were clearly spinning us a tale but constrained by the CTV footage. Clearly it was impossible for them to join all the dots to produce a plausible picture. So they fall back on the standard excuse, the one we all use: “We were just tourists.” As a word, just is difficult to pin down, so much depends on the context. However, here it is being used to reduce the impact of what they were saying, to suggest that it is not that special to be a tourist in Salisbury . And as a word, just can be innocuous, used in everyday conversation. “We were just looking.” You may have thought that I was going to buy that Jaguar – but no, I was just looking. But there again it can produce one of the one of the most frightening sentences in the English language, heard at all war crime tribunals: “We were just following orders.” I would imagine that our two Russian tourists would make the same claim. This wasn’t our idea, we did not plan the operation, we were just doing what we were tasked to do. No more. Not that they spoke English of course but that is what the soldiers who crucified Jesus would have said in their own defence, pushing responsibility one rung higher. “I was just doing my job.” Taking responsibility for our actions doesn’t come too easy because it means taking the consequences. Passing the buck is part and parcel of our human nature, our instinctive reaction when we have been caught out. It begins with Adam no less. “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12). I can just hear him saying: “I just had one bite!” For her part Eve too avoids responsibility for their act of disobedience. “The serpent seduced me and I ate.” Taking responsibility for our actions, to own up, has to be one of the most important steps in becoming the person God wants us to be. We determine not to blame others. Instead we decide to be honest before God and with ourselves; we resolve not to use the word just. And of course, the wonder of the Gospel is that God accepts and forgives us, even as we are. For at the cross Jesus takes the full consequences for my actions, such is his love. This means that as we take responsibility for our actions before him, so amazingly God takes full responsibility for our lives. In fact, one of the most helpful quotes which has encouraged me over the years is from the South African missionary Andrew Murray: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to him.” Then we are in a new ball game or as the apostle Paul would say, we are a new creation. And one of the consequences is that the word just is redeemed. Last month in Virginia nothing was going right on that particular evening for a nurse driving home. To make things worse a warning light appeared on her dashboard and so she stopped the car. Then she had the sensation that God was telling her to turn around. She did and came across a UPS driver unconscious at his wheel in the centre of the road. This is incredible. You will not believe this. As I type these words, looking out of my window I see just ten yards away a UPS van in its distinctive brown livery turn around in front of our house. Is God telling me something or is it just one of those things? Weird. Anyway, back to the story. So our nurse does what nurses do and she starts CPR by herself. Not easy, especially when the driver is still sitting in his seat. Meanwhile another nurse, who never drives in that neighbourhood incidentally, sees what is happening and immediately sets to, helping the driver out of the van and onto the ground where they both continue CPR. It takes a while – but the driver regains consciousness before being taken to the same hospital where both nurses work. In many ways, a typical story of God at work and God at work through two people who just happened to be at the right place and the right time. You might say a mirror image of Alexander and Ruslan. And their comment when interviewed by the press. “We were just the hands that God used.”