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  • Ross Moughtin

When we need to be shocked

Updated: Mar 28


As headlines go, it’s pretty stark. ONE BRIT DIES EVERY 13 MINUTES. The Sun, of course, has form when it comes to arresting headlines. You may remember how its headline GOTCHA on 4 May 1982, came to define the entire Falklands conflict. Headlines, of course, are designed to grab our attention (and our cash), condensing a major news story into a few pithy words. Above all, they set a tone. And today, the Sun seeks to alarm us. Certainly it stands out on the newsstands. In contrast, its great rival, the Daily Mirror, seeks to reassure as it encourages “the virus heroes of the NHS” with its headline (in lower case) Your country LOVES you. So what is the Sun upto? It tells us that “COVID-19 DEATHS JUMP 113 TO 578.” Sad, of course and each death a terrible loss, but to give some context: for the UK as a whole someone dies every minute . (Just over 500.000 deaths every year or 525,600 minutes ). However, you could argue that the Sun rather than just selling copy is doing a public service, of shocking us into action. In fact, you can read in the Daily Mail, on an inside page, that the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police is frustrated that people are still treating the crisis like a holiday and leaving supermarkets with trolleys "full of booze and charcoal". Often the Hebrew prophets used shock tactics to get God’s message home, to give the truth to a people living in denial. Ezekiel, in particular, developed strategies which sometimes bordered on the bizarre, to gain attention, such as lying on his left side for 390 days and then on his right side for 40 days (Ezekiel. 4:4-8), not a ministry which I would emulate. How about cutting off his hair to burn one-third of it, chop one-third of it, and scatter the other third to the wind (Ezekiel 5:1–4)? And that’s just two of his weird actions! Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, also used extreme tactics to grab people’s attention, such as going around wearing a wooden yoke. (Jeremiah 27:2). The point was not lost on the authorities because his great rival, Hananiah, takes the yoke and smashes it in front of the king. (Jeremiah 28:10). The context for both prophets was a time of national crisis as the people of Israel, a people in covenant with the LORD, were in danger of being overwhelmed by the might of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. People were desperate for good news and so-called prophets like Hananiah were pleased to oblige. The problem was that they were failing in their central duty, to give God’s message. Hence the need, initially for Jeremiah in Israel and then later in Babylon, for Ezekiel, to get God’s word heard through all the chatter and radio interference. Fundamentally their message was a message of hope but only when the people chose to listen and then heed their warnings. Like today’s Sun, Jeremiah in particular was accused of rocking the boat, of unsettling the people of Judah with his disturbing message. They would prefer, to quote the chief constable, to treat the crisis like a holiday. After all, a barbeque with your friends is good for morale. Some years before the Babylonians appeared on the horizon, Jeremiah stood in front of the temple of the LORD, to proclaim “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.” (Jeremiah 7:3). You can’t get any clearer than that but no one was listening. The prophet continues “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4). The people of Judah were presuming on the Lord’s protection while living lives disregarding his covenant. They were relying on their religion to keep them safe. Later we read of the sheer frustration, even the despair, of this faithful prophet as his words were routinely ignored, his presence shunned. All this reminds me of the tearful protests from our valiant ICU staff pleading for us to heed the warnings and keep our social distance. “Why won’t they listen?” they ask along with the prophet. For in such an emergency the danger is always the false prophets, those like Hananiah, who tell people what they want to hear, of offering an easy gospel. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control,” President Trump said on 22 January. “It’s going to be just fine.” You can just hear Ezekiel’s frustration. “‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash.” (Ezekiel 13:10). No, the one way we are going to get through this present crisis is to do the right thing. That may seem obvious now but for the Government to have acted with today’s drastic measures would not have been politically possible just two, even one week ago. To do the right thing does not always come naturally but we owe it to each other, and certainly to those serving the sick and protecting the vulnerable, to hold the line. Even so Jeremiah, now held in custody for his subversive ministry, could see beyond the crisis and declares God's promise: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3). #gospel #prophet

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