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  • Ross Moughtin

When the way ahead is uncertain

Mea culpa: I have booked a holiday, even one abroad. It seemed a good idea last July. As such it was a great deal some 11 months in advance, in the Loire valley, And by booking a static on a Camping et Castels campsite, we need not come into direct contact with anyone, especially if we used the Channel tunnel. By May, Jacqui and I should have had our second jab. So assuming the French let us in, we should be okay. No doubt some rules will still be in place but we will be in the open air and away from crowds. So it was a bit of a blow to hear Health secretary Matt Hancock warn against réserver nos vacances: “I know that people are yearning for certainty over whether they can have a summer holiday, but pandemics are difficult times and there is a lot of uncertainty so I am afraid that people will have to be patient before we can get that certainty.” I had hoped that with the successful rollout of the vaccine programme, life would slowly return to normal. Holidays, of course, are just icing on the cake. What really counts, of course, is a full return to school and colleges, being able to visit loved ones in residential care along with the re-opening of ‘non-essential’ business so essential for our wellbeing. I had thought that everything would begin to change on 8th March, that the end was in sight. But alas no. The problem, it seems, is the risk of mutations. This morning’s Times reports that Downing Street appeared to cast doubt on the prime minister’s hope of reopening schools early next month after suggesting that there could be a delay in releasing the government’s road map out of lockdown. Most of us can just about hold on if the end is in sight. The problem facing us all is when the lockdown, even in a reduced form, extends into the foreseeable future. We need hope much more than we need holidays. We find uncertainty unsettling. “Hold on” is one of the key messages of the Bible, especially to those who are going through it and particularly when the end is not in sight. Much of the Bible is located in such a setting, spoken to those in faraway exile or those facing persecution, even martyrdom at the hands of powerful forces. Don’t lose your nerve, hold on! “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” writes an unknown apostle to a church wavering in its hope. (Hebrews 10:23) In this he draws on the Hebrew scriptures: “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”(Hebrews 10:36). As disciples of Jesus we are called to live by the certainty of his promises in an uncertain world. And it doesn’t come easily. There was a fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “Christian Prophets Are on the Rise. What Happens When They’re Wrong?” Michael Brown, an evangelical radio host and commentator, is quoted: “In my lifetime — 49 years as a follower of Jesus — I’ve never seen this level of interest in prophecy.” These are troubling times, the sense of insecurity is palpable. The pandemic is seeing off old certainties. And the danger for Christians is to seek a short-cut out of this anxiety through false certainties, more often than not communicated through prophets speaking through the internet, when you can’t look into their eyes and discern their character. The NYT explains: “Prophecy is not only a predictive tool, but an analytical lens for making sense of the past and current events. The most successful prophets can connect seemingly disparate pieces of data in a grand narrative, adding new layers of interpretation as events unfold and inviting others to contribute.” I guess we’re talking here about babies and bathwater. It’s not that prophecy as such is wrong: it’s knowing who to listen to, which prophecies to believe . For at its heart prophecy is simply speaking God’s word into a particular situation rather than predicting the future. It’s a valuable ministry. However, when human beings are involved there is always a risk. In fact, all the New Testament writers would warn us against false prophets. Even Jesus himself warns us against their allure: “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” (Matthew 24:11). So especially at such times of uncertainty we need to “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) Training for ordained ministry all those years ago, I found myself on a placement with a chaplain at a large teaching hospital, a ministry I found hugely stressful for the simple reason you didn’t know what was to happen next. In hospital, in life, challenges don’t come in alphabetical order. The chaplain, a lovely man, took me aside and counselled me: “You have to learn to minister in uncertainty.” Now that was prophecy! And for us today, we are living in insecure times, we don’t know what the next variant will do to us. We may not be able to change our situation but we can change our stance, even to flourish in situations of uncertainty. “We must hold on to God's promise that we have said we believed. And we must never let go. He has promised and he will do it” (Hebrews 10:23). #hope #uncertainty #persevere

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