We are to be good sailors in troubled waters.
This week’s session in the House of Commons is rightly taking centre stage as our elected representatives debate Brexit, what it means and how to do it. That’s how our democracy works. However, as today’s Economist points out: “The government’s struggle to get the deal through Parliament exposes a crack that Brexit has created at the heart of Britain’s democracy.” And this crack between Leavers and Remainers goes right through both our main political parties so that neither the Tories nor Labour can offer a coherent policy on what is now the most important decision to face our nation. For our nation is divided. 52/48% does not allow a clear consensus. In fact, this fissure between staying in the EU and leaving goes right goes not just through parliament but through my own mind. The House of Commons may be sorely divided but so am I, caught between our national sovereignty and our economic wellbeing. It’s a case of squaring the circle and as I blogged some weeks ago, Theresa May has the unenviable task of delivering the solution. However, you will know that squaring the circle is an insoluble problem in Euclidean geometry. So we are in for a time of debate in which listening is more important that arguing your case, a period of reflection as each scenario is scrutinized, every outcome imagined. Not an easy time for our country because no one likes uncertainty. Unpredictable because we do not know where we are going. But as one of the greatest politicians of the modern era, Nelson Mandela, pointed out, “it always seems impossible until it's done. For the Christian the word impossible is not a boundary marker but a signpost for the simple reason, as the angel Gabriel reminded Mary, nothing is impossible for God. (Luke 1:37). This gives us a confidence to face a future, however daunting the present. I’ve just started reading Lamentations, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament, not an easy book to read because it comes from a time of extraordinary suffering of the people of Judah. Their nation, their capital city, even the temple of the LORD, has been overwhelmed by the Babylonians. They are facing forced deportation, subjugation, persecution, starvation, even death. That is the death of their nation. Compared to this, Brexit is a stroll in the park. And what the writer does is to face reality with an extraordinary honesty. There are no easy answers, no glib promises of it’s going to turn out in the end. My BRF Guideline notes tell me that it has many parallels with the city-lament genre of its time in that part of the world. But the note of restoration at the end of the city-lament is absent from Lamentations. Instead, just tears.
“For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.” (Lamentations 1:16)
There is the realisation that we have brought this on ourselves and so we must take the consequences of failing to honour God.
“The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and behold my suffering; my young women and young men have gone into captivity.” (Lamentations 1:18) There is simply a resignation to a terrible suffering “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” (Lamentations 1:12) We can read these words today knowing that against all the odds and contrary to every historical precedent, the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion. Astonishingly, Judah was re-established, the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt. You feel like saying to the writer of Lamentations, it’s all going to work out in the end. God is faithful, he is not going to let you down. But the writer already knew this in his bones, however shrivelled they may have felt. Because of the faithfulness of God, he could live with uncertainty, he could handle a bleak future. He placed his faith in the God of the impossible even though he could not envisage a good outcome. And this hope impacts how we as Christians we may live in the present moment as we reject glib answers and see through false promises. Crucially, we refuse false messiahs. For even in our weakness, we may thrive in impossible situations. And what is crucial, for the benefit of others. For this is our vocation as Jesus calls us to be salt, to be light for our community. We are to be good sailors in troubled waters.
So we pray for our politicians, especially those who represent us in the House of Commons.