A Ray of Mercy against Dark Clouds of Judgement
With just days to go prior to Christmas the nation held its breath to see what would be the outcome of one of the most crucial General Elections in our history. Political life and government in the House of Commons had reached a point of unparalleled chaos and confusion, with all the norms of reasonable and sensible behaviour lost in a welter of anger and mutual hostility. We were watching all the time-honoured procedures of our democratic government being glibly overthrown, and we saw even those whose responsibility it was to guard those procedures actually doing most to undermine them. We were threatened with a deep and debilitating constitutional crisis. Politically we were in “meltdown”. It was a hideous, unbelievable dream for a nation which prided itself above all on the fairness and sensibleness of its political institutions.
At the deepest level, from a spiritual standpoint, as a nation we were clearly experiencing the hand of God’s judgement.
But with Christmas still before us we woke up to find the nightmare had gone, the confusion abated and a government with a working majority “in situ”; we had had an election which did not leave us with the chaos of a “hung” parliament, or something even worse. Stability had been restored. There was a real calm after the storm, a genuine break in the sky. The relief was palpable and widespread, though obviously not universal.
There had been a great deal of earnest prayer surrounding that election, not only corporate prayer but the prayer of many individuals, and God had shown “mercy in the midst of wrath”. We had been spared absolute political collapse. Prayer had prevailed it seemed. That is a truth Christians need to ponder and act upon more than ever in the coming days.
A Very Loud Thunderclap
The New Year, however, saw a sudden and totally unexpected thunderclap which severely jolted that feeling of relief. Donald Trump openly ordered the assassination of Qassem Suleimani (“the Mastermind of Iranian foreign policy”) by a drone attack. Such an action was unprecedented and clearly an act of war. Had the President lost leave of his senses in a moment of pique? Did he realise the possible devastating repercussions? Was this Trump at his most irresponsible? The “markets” showed signs of panic. Everyone was alarmed at the possible outcome – war!..? Such fear was eminently reasonable as a first reaction. But then something very surprising happened even in the first two or three days of the “crisis”. A number of eminent journalists and analysts began to say in effect that even if this were the “irresponsible Trump” what had happened was actually not as dire at it first seemed. The fact was that a very definite “red line” had at last been put down in the clearest way possible with Iran. Critically the President was able to show that Iran had been operating through its “proxies” a clandestine and bloodthirsty war with America (and others) for a long time: the strike was intended to stop it. The analysts also took note of the fact that Iran’s options for revenge were very limited, and especially so since it was clear that the U.S. was prepared to respond, and could respond, with superior strength to any retaliation. The shouting on the streets in Iran was threatening but only cloaked a lack of power. Neither did the shouting necessarily reflect the feelings of many Iranians who have been disillusioned by the “regime” for some time now. Moreover it had come at a time when economically Iran is in something of a critical state. And the great powers looked on – mute.
So, has even this dangerous-looking thunderclap really got a silver lining? Does what has happened look like some merciful restraint on Middle East violence? Are we in this country in a better position both nationally and internationally than we were toward the end of 2019? It would be unwise to get too optimistic. The next twelve months could be another bumpy ride for our government over the EU issue. How sure can we be that America will see the job through in the Middle Eastern boiling pot or will President Trump do a characteristic back-track? What will the other super-powers do? They are watching and waiting for their opportunity.
The fact is that though we may well have seen something of the mercy of God for our nation, the sky is still dark with the threatening clouds of judgement. The spectre of major war has been raised in a very significant way, even if there has been a silver lining. Biblically, the judgements of God can be seen to progress from political chaos to war, and we do well to take heed of the warnings of God. That is the overriding feature in the outlook, and the truth we need to keep firmly before us. The fact is that our nation still pursues its non-moral course of behaviour, if anything getting gradually worse in its obscenities, its legal absurdities, its violence, its unbridled lust for money and pleasure etc. And what is true of our nation is true of the whole Western world. We are utterly dependent on the mercy of God. The recognition of that dependence needs to be paramount in our praying. “In wrath remember mercy” has to be our constant cry both corporately and individually, and it needs to come from “pure hearts and clean hands”.
I feel very strongly that this is a time when the prayer of concerned individual Christians is of the utmost importance; it is not a time to wait for prayer meetings to be called (though there is need for that in our churches), but a time to take individual responsibility in prayer.