A WORLD IN NEED OF WISDOM

I have been listening in to some of the proceedings of the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. The conference brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists for up to four days to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world. Over the years it has had bitter criticism as well as rough handling at the hands of protesters; it has been inevitably branded by conspiracy theorists as a world “take-over” group, and it has been maligned as the spearhead of globalization activists etc. Nonetheless it continues to be a place where international contact can be made between leading world politicians and those who are heading up the vast new business empires and the technological revolutions that are rapidly re-shaping our age At the same time the fundamental intention of the forum still remains the resolution of the tensions and difficulties in the world. To have such a forum is important. The subjects under discussion are wide, impressive and relevant. Theresa May, for example, has spoken at the Conference (very ably) on AI (Artificial Intelligence) – a massive issue for the future. Of course we have to acknowledge that in such a forum different interest groups (whether business or political) will inevitably watch carefully over their own interests, but there never has been in this world any kind of forum on any aspect of life where that has not been the case. Despite such divergent interests it remains a fact that such forums have done good and can still do some good. Finally it is worth noting that it is the brain child of a Business Professor of the University of Geneva, not a politician; the politicians are invited because the resolving of our the problems in our future society will require business and politics to operate together more than ever before.

Watching all this as a sort of “layman” in a hideously technical and complex debate I am struck once again by the fact that the new modern world requires a huge amount of wisdom from those steering the vast changes that are taking place. I am alarmed by how little grasp even the best informed economists have on the vast fluctuations in the world economic processes. It’s not just economic wisdom we need, however. At another level the technological changes promise great gain, but at the same time are fraught with appalling social dangers: Face Book, for example, has brought great social gain and yet at the same time grave social dangers. We need wisdom for that.

The problem in the modern world is not so much what we know as what we do with what we know. Knowledge is what we know; wisdom is what we do and how we handle what we know. It is wisdom we need. We know how to split the atom, but we need to understand what to do with that knowledge; we now know how to cram an infinity of knowledge on to a very small “chip”, but we need to know what we should and should not do with that chip! The world has excelled in knowledge over the last decades; it now needs to excel in wisdom!

This wisdom, however, is not just scientific or economic or business wisdom. The wisdom that is called for is a wisdom that will restrain irresponsibility and evil self-aggrandizement; we do not want the “wisdom” that creates greater and greater profits for just a few, or that puts a few on higher and higher pedestals. That, unfortunately, is the horizon of too many powerful people. It’s a “selfish” wisdom. Rather the need is for a wisdom that creates a much wider and greater social benefit. In other words the wisdom required must have a strong underlying moral aspect. We want a wisdom that leads us away from the jungle of the “survival of the fittest”; we want a wisdom based thoroughly on responsibilities to people. That, of course, is a huge challenge to our self-centred humanity. The best of the Davos thinking would not disagree with that desire, I’m sure: indeed many of the discussions centre on human social needs. But the problem is to keep focused on such a desire! I do not think any algorithm will find the way to such wisdom; at best it would only affirm the intransigence of humanity in its propensity to do the wrong thing!

It is precisely such wisdom that our Christian faith offers. That is fundamentally because it offers the strongest of moral bases. It constitutes a call to a deep personal rejection of pride, power, unlimited possessions, and an embracing of responsibilities for other people. The billionaires who make up the guest list of Davos are in grave danger of missing this call simply because of their worldly success, though some have clearly acknowledged the need of a moral basis for their discussions. The wisdom that the Bible offers is summed up in the simplest of terms: “The fear of the Lord (an awesome respect for his commandments) is the beginning of wisdom” in the Old Testament, and “Love your neighbour as yourself” on the lips of Jesus. A Holy God calls us to a personal rejection of all evil and to a simple trust in Him and his Christ. The world lacks wisdom simply because it does not walk with its Maker as it should, even though his “wisdom” has been conveyed to us it such simple terms.

Bob Dunnett     25/01/18

THE LORD of the NATIONS

The prophets of Israel whose writings we have in the Bible are not always easy to understand, but once we put them in their historical background they have immense lessons to teach us about God and the way he deals with nations. For that reason the prophets are especially important for us today as we view the increasingly chaotic scenes among the nations in our own current generation.  None of the prophets give a greater sweep of vision and understanding to these national affairs than Isaiah who, hearing God prophetically, scanned the nations that made up his own chaotic world of the Middle East and revealed the power and reality of the Living God directing the convulsive events of those times.  The over-riding lesson he conveys is that God is not absent but actually directing and controlling both those events and the earthly rulers behind them who blindly think they are in control. We learn that God is always working out his own purpose in the historical flow.

A prophesy in Isaiah 45 shows us this truth very plainly. The broad historical sweep underlying this prophecy is clear. Over a period of about 100 years first the northern part of the Jewish nation was destroyed and depopulated by the Assyrians and then the southern part (Judah) was later destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians who conquered the Assyrians. Some seven or eight decades later the Babylonians in turn were destroyed by the Persians who released the Jews to go back to Jerusalem. It is with this huge historical canvas that the prophets are concerned. The prophecy in Isaiah 45 concerns the destruction of the Babylonians by the Persians under their king, Cyrus. It takes the form of a message to Cyrus the future conquering king of Persia:

1“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.3 I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge me….

7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

The prophecy makes three things clear:

1 The success of Cyrus in his conquests is entirely due to the LORD (i.e. Jehovah, the God of Israel, the Living God). The Lord has “anointed” Cyrus (given him all the inner strength he needs) to defeat the other kings of his day. It is the Lord that will remove all the difficulties he may face, and it is the Lord who will give him the booty of conquest. All this will be given to Cyrus even though Cyrus in no way acknowledges the Lord or worships Him (v.4). Whatever motives Cyrus may have and however much he may think success is due to his own clever planning or his own power and strength as king, the campaigns he undertakes will be at God’s prompting and the outcome will be decided by the Lord. It is God who gives to him his “title of honour” among the nations. He is God’s instrument for God’s purposes.

2 In his use of Cyrus the purpose of God is made clear; it is to bring blessing to his own people, the Jews (Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen). God had promised through Jeremiah that Judah would be in captivity for 70 years and now those years were up. The Jews had been conquered and taken into captivity by Babylon as a chastening judgement by God. Now the time was coming for their release and a pagan king, Cyrus, was to have all the power needed to make that release happen. The ebb and flow of the fortunes of all nations are in the hands of God

3 The absolute authority and power of God among the nations and in the world is underlined by the stark prophetic reminder that God “forms the light and creates darkness, brings prosperity and creates disaster” and that “he does all these things”. Prosperity and favour come from God’s blessing; disaster, war and destructions come from his judgements.

A further prophecy of Isaiah’s runs along exactly the same lines:

5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! 6 I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch and plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 But this is not what he intends, this is not what in his mind; his purpose is to put an end to many nations.” Is. 10: 5-7

This refers to an earlier historical period when the Jewish northern kingdom and Samaria were ravaged and deported by the Assyrians. The Assyrians in this instance, however, were the “rod of God’s anger” and were being used for chastising the Jews, and not for deliverance. The Assyrians, of course, did not see it quite like that – they were simply bent on conquest and the riches that would bring.

But the message is the same; in the affairs of nations God rules supreme. In this way he rules with judgment, he rules with mercy and he rules with justice.

It is important for intercession that we grasp clearly this prophetic message that God does have complete sovereignty over all that happens to the nations in this world. The biblical revelation is uncompromising on this matter and we should have the same mind-set. This is the value of these Isaiah passages. Grasping this truth in faith breeds confidence in our praying and enables us to take a right direction in our prayer. The vast majority of the rulers of our present world are very much like the kings of Assyria, Babylon and Persia; they believe they are making history; they plan to extend their power and to gain the riches of the world by force of some sort or another. The very power they have corrupts and releases every kind of arrogance and pride. This is sadly all too evident. BUT God is supreme! We need to remember the fact that in prayer we have an audience with that Living God! Moreover we have a biblical injunction to make prayers and intercession “for kings and all in authority, that we might lead peaceable lives in all godliness”. (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Bob Dunnett

NORTH KOREA – A WARNING BELL?

The last blog featured the apocalyptic horsemen of Revelation.  Apocalyptic though it may have been, it spoke clearly about the world we live in!  This week’s blog features a real life illustration of the warning behind one of those apocalyptic horsemen.  I have in mind the current North Korean threat which seems only too well to relate to the red horseman who took peace away from the world.

Why has such small country, exactly half the size of the UK and with less than half the population of the UK, suddenly become the source of much apprehension and alarm in the world?  It has become a powder keg big enough to blow apart the delicate balance between much greater super-powers who have atomic weapons and have learned, so far at any rate, to live without using them.

The first reason we can give is that North Korea is geographically in a prime strategic position between China and the USA. The USA has great influence in the Far East on account of its military presence and connection with South Korea and Japan.  This has always been an embarrassment to the rapidly developing China. North Korea (attached to the Chinese border) is something of a buffer against this USA presence and China watches North Korea’s independence of the USA very closely and jealously.  The Chinese are not prepared for North Korea to come under American influence. This has been the case ever since the Chinese unleashed their army to control North Korea in the early 1950s when the US army looked like taking the whole of Korea from the communists. The border between North and South remains an impregnable flash point nearly 70 years later. Thus, because of its communist affinities with China and because of its border with China, North Korea has been able to develop relatively undisturbed, and in particular able to develop its atomic weaponry.  Hidden and shielded it has grown into a monster.

Perhaps a more crucial explanation of its present threatening behaviour lies in the nature of the political structure and its philosophy which has developed since 1948 when the North was separated from the South by a U.N. resolution.  In the seventy years from that resolution there have been three generations of ruthless autocratic government centred on one family.  Their power is absolute and the veneration of them is constantly demanded of the people (and seemingly willingly given); two huge statues of the two “Kim”s that have died are placed in the area of the central government buildings and Koreans constantly kneel before these statues. Elsewhere there are 70 bronze statutes and tens of thousands of other monuments of the founding Kim further encouraging this pseudo-religious personality cult.  The founder is called the “Eternal President” and his son “The Eternal General Secretary”.  It is a type of idolatry that recalls the Pharaohs of Egypt and other god-like rulers of history. This is a communism with an extraordinary idolatrous twist.

Alongside this, the vulnerability of the nation has inevitably led to an autocracy which is very heavily militaristic.  For its size North Korea has an enormously powerful army, ready and fully equipped, presenting a massive threat to South Korea. The military is the one great boast of the regime to its people.  This is part of the ideology of “Juche” (self-determination or self-reliance and “action with reference to no other power”).  All this has been achieved through immense deprivation among the people of North Korea. The development of atomic weaponry which is a threat to the USA is a crucial part of this militarism.  It is seen to be a critical factor in undergirding the regime, and it will allow North Korea to put enormous pressure on South Korea and even to get it under the North’s control.  The unification of Korea has always been a prime aim of the Kim.

After so many years of such entrenchment and development the fact is that the world is in very real danger; a deluded autocrat with an iron grip on his country and with a deadly ambition of the most destructive type is a world threat.  The present Kim is more likely to die in the destruction his ambition brings than to give it up.  Talking to him is highly unlikely to bring about a change of mind;  and mockery of Kim by the USA at Presidential level is certainly not helpful; it can only harden the determination of the dictator.

However, there is one great weakness for the regime.  It is not in any way a self-sufficient economy; indeed it has been very heavily dependent on outside aid and support from its inception. Starving the economy of an already starving population would inevitably bring huge pressure on the regime. China, though reluctantly, is at last tightening its grip and making its sanctions bite (this week it has sent home all the N. Korean business men – or so it seems).  The question is whether the sanctions will achieve their aim and prevent Kim getting together his atomic warhead and long range missiles or whether they will be too late. The situation is critically poised.

What I have written so far is an analysis of the human factors in the situation; is there a “spiritual analysis?  We might make a start in that direction by asking how it is possible that men of the stamp of Kim, deluded and destructive, gain power and control?  Why do they appear? History has always been full of them.  The 20th century had a surfeit of such rulers, and the 21st century is following suit.  The answer lies fundamentally in the fact that “the whole world lies in the hand of the evil one”. “The Prince of this world” is active in the human principalities and powers (rulers and leaders) of this world by means of the principalities and powers of the unseen world.  The “unseen spiritual powers” impinge on the “visible human powers” and bring their evil character to them.  So this world’s rulers very frequently live through imposing fear and violence both on their own domain and on others.  Satan’s imprint is to be seen in many other ways.  We need to give full weight to the fact that Satan was able to offer all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus in an effort to thwart the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Sadly this kind of fundamental truth is all too often lost in much of our secularised Christian thinking.  But Satan is the Prince of this world, a world ruler, and he has placed many tyrants in power in that world. Thankfully it is also true that God is God and has the ultimate rule over the world and over the Prince of this world and what he can do.  When God allows Satan to raise up destructive leadership in nations (or even confusion in a nation) it is always in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.  In particular he allows such happenings as a form and measure of judgement on the world.  We have very clear examples of this in the rise of Assyria and Babylon in Old Testament history.  It is God who writes the essential narratives of history, and he is writing our current history! “His judgements are in all the world”!

Professional historians are given to debating whether events are caused by momentary human decisions or by long term trends or by some combination of both. For them God is not a factor. And for all their historical knowledge they can never be accurate in forecasting events. But for us God is the fundamental factor, the key to proper understanding of events.  Thus with regard to the present great danger, we cannot say for sure how the Korean threat will ultimately work out. Any number of contingencies are possible, some leading to peace, some to destructive war. But the essential fact is that God holds the reins . The decisions that matter are always made in the courts of heaven, not in the ruling bodies of humanity.  It is for this reason that we must address ourselves to having a clear spiritual analysis and, as a watchman for the world, to seeking God for his mercy.

The one thing we may be sure of is that the situation with Korea is a warning bell from God!

 

Bob Dunnett

THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD and A RADICAL SOLUTION

Surveying the nations of his day David gave voice to what he saw with the words, ““Do you rulers indeed speak justice? Do you judge uprightly among men? No, in your heart you devise injustice and your hands meet out violence on the earth” Ps 58: 1-2.  David’s own heart was set on doing what was right, constantly giving thanks to His God whom he knew to be righteous, faithful and just.  He hated wickedness, as his psalms constantly show. He was a man of deep integrity, a “man after God’s own heart”.  It was this integrity that makes clear that his stricture of other rulers of his day was not a foolish generalisation but was an accurate, and to him a distressing assessment.

If he had looked around the world in our own generation I have not the slightest doubt that he would have come to precisely the same general conclusion:  rulers who “devise injustice” and “meet out violence” are to be seen everywhere across the world.  There has been a disturbing collapse of many so-called “democratic” states into autocratic and despotic rule over the last two decades or so.  This has been particularly the case in Africa among the old colonial states where there has been widespread violence; and recent developments in South Africa are most disturbing. But it has also been the case in South Asia and South America.  “Strong men” everywhere, have exploited (or devised) revolutionary situations and have seized personal and arbitrary control through “necessary safety” measures, locking out any form of opposition, legitimate or otherwise.  Two of the most influential nations of the world, Russia and China, are despotic in essence, despite a “democratic dress”; here, as elsewhere, the strength and security of the “strong men” are always preferred to justice. After a brief flurry the Arab Spring has quickly reverted to despotic rule and its usual oppressive measures. The Middle East indeed has seen appalling violence and utterly unscrupulous actions from “rulers”. The gains for all these rulers are always great wealth (rarely, if ever, acquired justly) and power.

If we look at the “democratic” nations the picture is still very much as David painted it. Corruption is running at an increasingly high level, intrigue is universal and vicious, libel and misrepresentation is increasingly blatant, not least in the U.S. which considers itself the heart of the free world! Europe, caught up at the present in the throes of a vicious and unforgiving divorce with the UK  is no better, and its history in the last century has been one in which it launched two devastating world wars!. This, of course, is not to belittle the fact that there are many individuals who have a heart like David’s and seek justice and righteousness but the overall pattern is clear. The democratic instruments of government which men have produced are in themselves to be much admired and have brought high levels of justice and freedom. But they all suffer from one inescapable fault; the violence, ambition and greed of fallen human nature. They all tend to flounder on those flaws.

None of this should really surprise us. Satan offered Jesus all the wealth and rule of the kingdoms of the world, and so indicated that he had a level of control over the world’s rulers. His kingdom is one of oppression, violence and deceit and he finds faulty humanity a convenient partner for his rule over human kingdoms. He did not mention, however, God’s supreme Kingship over all things and Jesus was not interested in the vain glory of a ruler-ship which would always involve fear and violence. Jesus in any case already had a very similar promise from his Father, a promise enshrined prophetically in the Psalms; “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps 2:8). This was a promise, not of receiving the rule of corrupt and sinful nations, but of receiving nations whom he would both judge and also redeem from sin. And it was an utterly certain promise.

We have seen two thousand years of human history since Jesus died, rose and ascended. In our generation it is well documented. The lessons of history are not always easy to read and in any case are largely ignored, but in the case of humanity in general history’s verdict is totally unmistakeable. All the evidence points to the fact that it is the deep flaws in human nature of greed, pride, arrogance, violence and envy that are fundamentally responsible for the story of self-destruction which makes up human history over the ages. These flaws are characteristic of all human hearts, but they seem particularly manifest among kings and those in positions of power. As we have been very perceptively told by a foremost British historian, “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. His comment has now become a well-known axiom, but little heeded! It means that holding on to power at the point when it threatens to be lost is the point at which violence and injustice is most certain to appear. (We have so many examples in the modern world of this fact). It means that being able to use power without any accountability (despotic power) is always a temptation too far. It means that to gain power is actually to arrive at a moral slippery slope where very few indeed keep their balance!

This is a lesson from history which very few thinkers are prepared to engage with. And yet it is the central problem of our world and the whole human race. “We’re not that bad!” would be a common retort – this denies the depth of the problem. “Evolution will sort it out at some aeon of time” – this very conveniently parks the problem. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it; and we are trying to teach “values””. The problem has never been, however, about “knowing values” but about living them! It’s moral dynamic we need, not “education”.

Thankfully it is precisely this problem that the biblical narrative engages with. That is why the biblical narrative can never be accused of irrelevance. From Genesis to Revelation the focus is on the human “fall” from grace. The first thing that it seeks to establish is that it exists and is not to be denied. No excuses are offered. Human nature is pictured in the raw, just as it is. The second thing it establishes is that the solution of the problem is beyond humanity’s own competence. In particular a code of moral behaviour is shown to be not a solution to humanity’s failure, but is shown to be something that makes human inability to shake off its flaws all the more evident. So the Ten Commandments, though impeccable as a code given by God, could not provide the moral dynamic humanity needed to live uprightly and without violence. That is the lesson of the Old Testament.

What humanity really needs, and this is the radical solution, is a thorough transformation from within; the old propensities in human nature toward evil need to be replaced by equally strong propensities to do what is good, just and peaceful. New motivations of love are what are required. Nothing less than a “new creation” will suffice. This is the point grasped by the New Testament gospel, and re-iterated throughout its books.  To use its most graphic expression humanity needs to be “born anew”. It needs a new “injection” which nullifies the old nature and release a new nature. And this is precisely what the gospel offers. It offers a new nature from the Creator God through the power of His own Spirit.  No source other than God would be possible or sufficient for such a change. Self-change by meditation and such like exercises simply would not avail. There is a majestic simplicity about this solution to humanity’s inner need, as well as a profound logic. And it is a measure of God’s concern for his creation that He is ready to do this. The way has been opened by the sacrifice of Jesus, and by his consequent release of the Holy Spirit into those who seek such a change. Innumerable people across the world have experienced something of such an inner change in following Jesus.

The “radical solution” is not simply a matter for the present world, however. The purpose of God is to complete his work by taking us through death into a new resurrection experience with a new body, equally radically changed. This will be part and parcel of a process in which this world will be brought to its end and a new world created. We shall be new creations in new bodies with a new divine likeness in holiness, and in a new world which knows no death but of which eternal life is the key feature.

Too good to be true? Or too wonderful to be missed!

 

Bob Dunnett

NATIONAL INTERCESSION – Further Thoughts

Last week’s blog looked at the intercession which was made during the crisis of World War 2 by those who had prophetic insight and faith to grasp that God could and would act in answer to prayer.  We considered such intercession on both a national scale and among individuals.  It clearly undergirded military victories and the final success against an evil regime.  This week we continue to look at some of the lessons we can learn from that intercession.

One very important fact to keep in mind as we do this is that in the bible experiencing war is always seen as an act of judgement on God’s part.  This is not an easy principle to grasp especially when what is seen as a seemingly “innocent” nation is attacked by a ruthless, unprincipled antagonist.  The idea that an “innocent” nation in such a situation is under judgement goes against deep emotions of loyalty, against a sense of justice, and, of course, in a godless world, against rationality!   If the nation happens to be our own nation then the idea of judgement is all the more strongly rejected!  But the bible is quite clear on the issue. God, speaking to his prophet Ezekiel spoke of “My four dreadful judgements, ’Sword and famine and wild beasts and plague” (See Ez. 14:12-21).  To be caught up in a war (the “sword”) is to be under judgement, whether the country which is attacked thinks itself innocent or not.  The twentieth century European (and world) wars are rarely, if ever, seen as judgements, but to the prophet’s eyes it is all too clear.  The twentieth century was labelled by one well-known historian as “the century of slaughter” – world-wide slaughter; and not without reason!  Biblically it was a century of judgement. Germany, Russia and, yes, Britain and America, along with many other countries, came under the judgement of war.  Wisdom lies not in claiming innocence but in trying to understand why it came to us.  “Where were we at fault?” is the proper question to ask.

This was a concept that initially stumbled the prophet Habakkuk.  When God told him that Judah was going to be ravaged by the merciless Babylonian army, he expressed great indignation at the idea of such a godless power being let loose on his country which, though not perfect on any count, was far less deserving of judgement than the attacker.  This was his viewpoint despite the fact that he knew perfectly well that Judah’s sister nation, Israel, had a century or so before been ravaged by the equally murderous Assyrians and that the event had been clearly recognised by the prophets of the time as a judgement .  Indignant, he in fact challenged God on the question of judgement through an evil power.  He was partially helped when he learned from God that evil Babylon would itself be judged in due course, but he nonetheless had to accept the fact that Judah was going to come under judgement for turning its back on God and was going to suffer grievously from the Babylonian war machine before Babylon in its turn suffered.

Two weeks ago in our blog we quoted the text of Abraham’ Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War.  In an astonishing way he recognised very clearly the nature of war as a judgement of God.  He wrote, “And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?”  He did not condemn the Southern States for their slavery or seek in any other way to justify the Northern States for their actions but recognised that the whole of the nation, North and South, was under judgement.  He was not offended as was Habakkuk.  More astonishing still, he clearly recognised that the judgement could bring about a national reformation and had a profitable purpose.  That “reformation” would lead to a turning away from the arrogance and pride which had rejected God in the midst of the success and prosperity of the growing nation. Lincoln was remarkably biblically literate and had a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of the judgements of God and that war was one of those judgements.

Thus when the likes of Rees Howell and Derick Prince, whom we mentioned last week (and the many others whom we shall never know of), took on a burden of prayer for the nation as the Nazi threat was carrying everything before it, they were in fact praying for a nation that was under judgement.  Much prayer had been made in 1939 for peace to prevail, but that had not been answered in the way that was hoped.  War came; judgement fell.  What in effect was happening with those who went on interceding was that they were praying essentially on the theme of “Lord, in wrath remember mercy”.  They could not turn the judgement (wrath) away but their prayer was effective for mitigating the judgement of war.  This had become Habakkuk’s position with God when he learned that his prayer would not prevent judgement; he pleaded for mercy in the midst of judgement.  He could not prevent Judah from being overrun and exiled to Babylon, for that was a decreed judgement of God, but he could plead for acts of mercy from God in the midst of it and he could plead for an ultimate restoration of Judah.  Thus when “wrath” comes, God remains open to a cry for mercy.  That should not in any way deaden our recognition or de-sensitise us to the appalling horrors of war as a judgement, but it does mean we are not left utterly helpless.

At the moment we are, as a nation, already under the judgement of God, though not at present under the judgement of war.  The present judgement is witnessed in the growing confusion and incompetence of government, in the way the nation has been “given over” by God to its own increasing moral and social collapse, and to its worship of pleasure and treasure.  This judgement is not, of course, peculiar to our own nation; it is in fact happening world-wide.  In such a wide scenario strong, evil men are likely to gain power and look for conquests, if need be by force of arms.  They in turn become the human agents of war (or terror), and become the instruments of judgment.  This process of development is one that we are becoming more and more familiar with in our world and is by no means unk nown at this time in our history.  It is very sobering and should lead (in Lincoln’s term) to a spirit of humiliation.

With a world bent on ignoring its Maker and pursuing its own libertine agenda, the call to God that he might none the less release acts of mercy is very urgent for our world. Looking for him, however, to hold back judgement itself is much less secure. But, judgement or not, the intercessory call for God to fulfil the mission to the Gentile world, to gather his own and to bring in His Kingdom remains paramount and will certainly be answered.

Bob Dunnett

DARK SHADOW OVER THE NATION

“This year it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood. In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies”.

“As a nation, we continue to reflect and pray”.

(From the Queen’s Birthday message this week.)

The Queen took the unusual step of sending out a message on her birthday celebration day this week. It was very short but much to the point. She noted that traditionally it was a day to celebrate but in fact her message voiced her own deep distress at the Manchester attack and the Grenfell fire. She was clearly not in a mood to celebrate – she had the nation at heart, as she always has. Her genuine concern for the people afflicted was very evident and so also was her appreciation of those who voluntarily sought to help them. She noted “a very sombre national mood” and obviously very much felt it herself. Of course she could make no references to the confusions that surround her government at this time and to the general political climate, though there can be little doubt that she will have felt equally deeply saddened about those things; they also add to the “sombre mood” she detects.

There was concern, there was compassion, but there was a complete absence of “rage”. You wouldn’t expect the queen to be in a rage, would you? That would be outrageous! You’d want constructive concern. Anger might be a powerful motivator in one sense, but you’d want it fully under control. If it were not under control it would almost certainly be destructive. The control of anger or “rage” is essential in those who aspire to rule. (In contrast, the media seem to like the word “rage” because it sounds so much more emotive than “anger”; it grips the reader and sells the paper!) No, those who rule must not rage, and those who rage must not rule.

In contrast to this we read of activists, masquerading under a specious banner of justice, attacking the Kensington Town Hall after the Grenfell tragedy and leaving an innocent man injured and badly shaken after physical assault. The man turned out not to be the “Tory councillor” he was thought to be, but a man volunteering to help the victims of the fire. Such activity is a grave danger to our society; politics by the mob, the violent mob. It was not even rage caused by the human tragedy of the burnt-out tower block. It was quite simply “rage” with political motivation, cynically using a human tragedy to make a political point and gain political advantage. Contrary to what the perpetrators think, it was utterly unacceptable to the free society which has been our birth right. Our birth right is the rule of Law, not the rule of the fist.

Unhappily there is real danger that such organised bullying violence will seek to impose itself more on the nation. Today, Wednesday 21st June, the Queen is due to open Parliament and give her customary speech. However, there has been a nation-wide call (so easy on social media!) for left wing militants to come to London in their thousands, to descend on Parliament and disrupt the Queen’s speech and embarrass and even remove Theresa May. There are those who will do their best to introduce violence to the occasion, a fact that is perfectly well known to the organisers of the event. But the motto of the organisers is “change by whatever means it takes”. This day has been called a “Day of Rage”, a “March of Anger”; it is precisely what the country does not need whatever political party we may belong to. It is particularly not needed at this already tense political moment in our history. The vast majority in the nation will not want mayhem on London streets, with the police yet again in the firing line. We have too much of it already from terrorists. It’s very important that all political leaders go out of their way to roundly condemn such behaviour, though sadly some politicians seem ready to turn a blind eye or even condone it.

History gives a clear verdict on the dangers of such behaviour. In fact “strong-arm” repressive politics is actually very much a contemporary happening in many nations, and they present a very dark scenario. But, in my mind, the memory of the appallingly destructive effect on Germany’s ailing democracy caused by the “private armies” of demagogues in the early 193os remains very much alive. We all know what the outcome of that was. Brute force, coercion, violence, rousing people’s anger are very dangerous tools to play with. They do not build – they only destroy.

The Queen said we were “reflecting and praying” on the grief we are witnessing in the nation (and since her message was given, Moslem worshippers have been mowed down by a van – more grief!) We certainly need to reflect – on many things. One glaring fact emerging from the Grenfell fire certainly calls for reflection; the juxtaposition in Kensington of low cost, poorly maintained public accommodation alongside luxury flats costing millions many of which are unoccupied and simply representing unused assets of rich investors. It highlights the vast gulf between poor and rich in a modern, greedy, riches-seeking society. Interestingly, and very appropriately, a lady preacher in one of the churches adjacent to the tower reflecting on the scene preached about the similarity of Kensington to the greed of the rich in the society of Amos’ day which drew down God’s strong judgement. We also need to reflect on a society which cuts corners at other people’s risk simply for profit, on a society which is losing integrity to increasing corruption. On the other hand we need to reflect on the readiness of so many ordinary people to rally so quickly to the needs of those who have been afflicted; this is good “capital” in the nation and we should give thanks for it. Those who would rage do a gross disservice to such people whose heart is to help.

It certainly is a critically important time to pray. Our society is being “given over” by God to its own lusts and desires, and the increasing and ugly confusion we are witnessing is a marker of that fact. We can only pray for his mercy to be revealed in the midst of his judgements, and for restraint and righteousness to prevail.

Bob Dunnett

“PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES”

This blog is not intended to make any “political” judgements over the extraordinary event of the election last week. Such judgements are all over the papers and still continuing!  I have found some of them to be very helpful, but the fact is that I have very little of the political “background” that would make any comments of mine of any great value.  What I do know, however, is that this election will go down in history as something that was extraordinary, perhaps even unique!  The consequences have yet to been seen and assessed, but the possibilities are legion, and frightening! This was a game changer election!

My eye has been less on the political parties than on stability in our national political institutions (for reasons that I will return to), and I must confess that after the dramatic defeat of David Cameron’s referendum gamble and his consequent resignation I was very thankful that the Tories managed to sort themselves out and provide someone in the person of Theresa May who prevented a wholesale slide into what could easily have been political mayhem. Unpopular with many (what politician isn’t?) she nevertheless sought to bring a strong, determined lead to a nation which had made a momentous, bitter and polarising decision over Europe. The ship of state seemed to regain its stability, even if many frantically thought it was sailing in the wrong direction, and even if the future was fraught with difficulties. However, I felt a great sense of relief and thankfulness for such stability (it was in sharp contrast to what was currently happening in the U.S. political world!). That stability has now been lost; we find ourselves again in a position where political chaos, confusion and in-fighting threaten.  This “strong” leader made the wrong decisions in the wrong way at the worst time (though, of course, a good many are rejoicing that she made those mistakes, chaos or no chaos!!)  Put not your trust in princes”!

Why do I keep my eye primarily on the issue of political stability?  The fact is that historically speaking political confusion and instability of the kind we are facing is a very serious and lamentable position for any nation. It is also dangerous.  It can paralyse government activity at critical moments and it can open a door for extremism and autocrats or demagogues when things get really out of hand. Instability is particularly dangerous when a nation faces an issue of the magnitude and complexity of Brexit for which clarity of intent and unified purpose is essential.  It is even more dangerous when opinion still remains so bitterly divided over the issue of Brexit.

Interestingly we are not alone in this instability. The United States has been living with it for some time now.  The Democratic Obama Presidency has been non-functional with the two Houses of the Senate and Congress, both Republican, making any legislation either impossible or extremely difficult.  With Donald Trump as President, his erratic and impulsive behaviour has probably made the situation even worse.  Confusion reigns, despite his façade of strong action. Paralysis of government in the world’s most powerful nation is not good. One could list other nations in the world where confusion is to be found, and not a few where conditions are chaotic.

We could, however, view all this instability in a much larger context. For instance we could ask the question; “Where is God in all this?” That, of course, seems to be a rather ludicrous, not to say irrelevant question to pose. God and politics don’t mix! At least they shouldn’t do!  God is God, and politics is politics.  God, if he is there, doesn’t do politics; that’s for us.  That is perhaps the unthinking de fault position even of a great many Christians.  But that’s not quite in line with the Scriptures. They tell us, “The Lord watches the nations”: He weighs the nations, he judges the nations, he it is who raises up rulers and puts down princes.  He is the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and destroyed Pharaoh, he is the God who raised up the Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs and let them take Israel back into exile.  He is the God who raised up Cyrus and redeemed Israel once again.  He is in the flow of history, and he is in the demise of nations and he is in their prosperity.  He blesses and he punishes.  Strong and righteous government is his blessing; weak and evil government, along with confusion and instability is his punishing.

Thinking over these present confusions I have been going back in my mind to a position I arrived at whilst studying Amos. Amos prophesied the demise of Israel some twenty to twenty five years before it actually happened.  When he first prophesied its destruction, God was just stirring up a dormant Assyria through a very active and ambitious ruler.  It took all those twenty or so years for that ruler to be in a position where he could terrify and conquer the nations of the Middle East, Israel included.  In those intervening years Israel, oblivious to the prophet’s warnings, pursued its own self-seeking way, ignoring God and his calls for righteous behaviour – it was consumed with pleasure seeking and increasing corruption and greed.  As far as the political scene was concerned one thing about those intervening years was very plain to see: they were years of political instability, incompetence and corruption.  Amos began his prophetic work under a very strong and able king, Jeroboam, but when he died the rulers who followed were of much inferior capacity.  The first year saw two of them murdered in the power struggle that ensued.  Government changed hands rapidly.  It remained unstable and incompetent, and its policies toward the growing threat of Assyria were disastrous. The fact of the matter was, however, that judgement had already started and was evident in Israel’s increasing confusion and incompetence at the political level. God was very much in the unstable and unsavoury happenings and political processes of those years. Those very happenings were part of the very warning God was seeking to bring to a godless nation.

I fear lest the political confusions and chaos with which we have to face up to in the tortuous negotiations in front of us should in fact be part of the displeasure that God has indicated toward our nation. It is extremely perilous future we face: far beyond human competence!  As far as Brexit is concerned it could turn out to be either a blessing or a catastrophe. That outcome will not depend upon our politicians. We have to reckon with the God of the nations.  He deals with nations according to their righteousness and their acknowledgement of Him. Our clever, opinionated analyses of what will happen and our carefully laid plans will not in the end decide the issue. The favour of God alone is sufficient, and that means faith in Him and righteousness of living.

“Put not your trust in princes – put your trust in God.”

Bob Dunnett

APPALLING VULNERABILITY

What a lesson was driven home to us this last week end! A cyber bug crippling hospitals and businesses; operations and consultations stopped in their tracks, and cars frozen on assembly lines. The lesson was simply that our modern world is appallingly vulnerable. Cyber sabotage, for whatever reason, may not be as obviously bloodthirsty in the way that terrorist attacks on our high streets are, or that atomic conflict would be, but potentially such sabotage could be much more dangerous and widespread, especially if primary essential services, including food distribution, came under attack on a national scale.

We are a computerised society in every way and increasingly so, and the more electronically integrated we become the more vulnerable we are. And this is not only in the realm of cyber-attack; electronic personal communication between people on a vast scale has left us open to every kind of misinformation and false news, and is already being used by unscrupulous national governments to interfere with the political affairs of other nations. This is not to mention the huge battle we are now obliged to wage with corporate interests to shield vulnerable people (young and old) from every kind of insidious temptation (pornography, gambling etc.) and fraud.

You will probably have noticed that most commentators on these recent attacks have made the point that it was a catastrophe waiting to happen. We have known of the possibility, even the probability, of cyber “warfare” for at least two decades, and indeed have had frequent incidents of it happening. During the military attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan voices were raised in protest saying that concentration by the U.S. on cyber defence and such issues would have been a much better use of resources. At a much lower level we have pretty well all of us had a bug- prompted crash on our computers that perhaps should have brought the issue more in front of us and made us more aware of a growing danger. It is always easy to be wise after the event, but the failure of the NHS to protect its computers, despite all the warnings, seems monumental. “Why would anyone want to attack a hospital?” might have seemed to be a sensible reason for saving a bit of money, but that was a failure to recognise the malign forces we are dealing with in the modern world.

The fact is that there is another lesson to be learned from the week end attacks and that lesson is that there are people (Individuals, rulers! nations!) that are ready and willing to take such appalling action if they can get away with it and it suits their purpose. Holding hospitals to ransom in order to line their own pockets is the work of utterly blinded and twisted people, albeit very clever! But the fact is that the forces of evil are very present in our world, some would say increasingly so. Those forces of evil are to be found rooted in human beings, and unfortunately not least in clever, able, gifted and “successful” people, and that is a lesson in itself to be deeply pondered. It is that essential problem of the evil bent in humanity that the bible focuses on and provides answers. It is, of course, the pervading modern liberal philosophy to say that man is essentially good, and in one sense that is true – human beings were created good, “in God’s image” in fact, and there are a lot of extraordinarily altruist people around. But that all humanity is warped with a bias toward doing evil is equally true and brings a needy balance to our understanding of the need of control.

There is yet a further lesson to learn in all this. Being vulnerable and feeling vulnerable is not a totally bad thing. In fact it has some real merit, and this has to be good news since we can never get to a point in life where we are completely protected from everything. This is true despite the fact that the main aim of the vast majority is to get to a point where they are living totally risk free in every aspect of life (financially, socially, health wise etc.). Understandable!  But a life can get so comfortable, so pleasure filled, so protected, so self-centred that it switches off from the real source of its protection and peace. That is, quite simply, it switches off from God. Jesus told a simple story of a rich man who grew enormously rich, built many barns to finance and protect his future, and told himself to live the good life he could now see in front of him. He had no need of anything, least of all God. (What a picture of so much of the modern world!) The story ended with a very sharp kick; God said to him, “You fool; tonight your life is required of you”. In similar vein, God spoke through Moses to the Israelites when they were delivered by the grace of God from the torments of the Egyptians and headed toward their promised land. He gave them a warning; “When you have eaten and are satisfied … be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his laws and decrees I am giving you today. Otherwise …when you build fine houses and settle down and when your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold increase, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God. If ever you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed”. Deut. 8:10ff. That was a pretty devastating warning, but it doesn’t just belong to the historical past. Self-satisfaction, complacency and the rejection of God remains a road to destruction today. An awareness of vulnerability is spiritually always a good thing. It can turn our eyes toward God. It doesn’t mean we go looking to be vulnerable – we don’t need to do that because the truth is we are in fact very vulnerable. It simply means we recognise it, and we recognise that whatever plans we lay for ourselves in life we actually need something beyond ourselves to protect and watch over us. God intends that our very vulnerability should lead us to him and to rest in all the protection, safety that he promises to bring to our lives as we walk with him. It is not a stupid or weak person who looks to God for his strength and protection and is ready to acknowledge it; on the contrary, that person is wise and has their feet on the ground. Vulnerability becomes a pointer in the right direction.

And I remain very grateful to God for the young fellow that found a way to switch off the destructive bug, and for the fact that we do have people who can bring us some defence against such unmitigated evil. But don’t let’s take that kind of thing for granted! Even less should we take God for granted and ignore him!

Bob Dunnett

“THE END OF HISTORY ?”

In the last decade of the twentieth century a well-known American Professor wrote an historical survey in which he made a startling comment that we had reached “the end of history”. On the face of it the statement was absurd, but what he was seemingly trying to convey was that we had reached a stage of development in the Western world and in America in particular in which the democratic process had come to fulfilment and that there was little more to develope except for America to export it across the world – in other words the historical period for the development of the state of democracy was at an end. He was, of course, writing at a time when American hubris was at a very high level. The USA was the undisputed leading power in the world, both in military terms and in economic terms; it was the intellectual and business leader; politically it was dominant, with the United Nations and the World Trade Centre both centred in New York. It was a fitting climax to the twentieth century which had historically really been the “American Century”; the USA had come from out of its isolationist background, had been involved in two World Wars and had been pre-eminent in re-settling the nations after those wars. It had prevailed in the highly dangerous “Cold War” with the USSR, and the Soviet Union had, it seems, turned a corner and was heading for a democratic renewal.  China, it is true, was making an increasingly loud noise but was still largely “off stage” internationally.

All this hubris received a chilling rebuff as the twenty-first century turned. The huge event which marked this rebuff was the 9/11 terrorist event in New York itself. This was an appalling blow to pride – a handful of terrorists hitting the epi-centre of power! The response betrayed the prevailing hubris. The strategic thinking in the White House was the neo-conservative concept of “regime” change by means of the vastly superior military power of the USA. Democracy would be exported but, if necessary, by force. It would be essentially a simple process – the ruling arbitrary powers of nations that colluded with terrorism would be deposed by a quick superior military strike, and opportunity would be given for the people to have a democratic resurgence. It was unbelievably naïve, but it went ahead in the Middle East and has left a legacy of devastating chaos out of which anything but “democracy” has emerged. Along with the economic debacle of 2008, it has also left a legacy of appalling national debt in the USA.

Rather than the growth of the democratic process that this well-known historian had predicted the present century has seen instead a development of arbitrary and ruthless autocratic power which has brought much uncertainty. When the “Arab Spring” began there was much hope that this might bring real “democratic” progress. Sadly hopes have been disappointed and have withered in the disillusionment of seeing arbitrary, military-style rule and violent rule take over, even in a country such as Egypt. As the twentieth century finished Russia had seemed to be far less malign than it had been, but nearly two decades into the present century its resurgent malignity is evident for all to see; it is flexing its muscles throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East and has reverted very much toward its totalitarian past. The Kremlin has chosen to sponsor the Syrian autocratic ruler and has established virtual control over that nation. Most recently Turkey has come under a President who is clearly bent on establishing autocratic power, using a referendum as his opportunity, and his relationship with the Kremlin is growing stronger. Europe itself has seen strong surges of discontent with government behaviour and presents real political strain. The times in which we live are times of “shaking”. They are times when we need to be alert.

Trying to “read” history and its probable outcome is a very dangerous business no matter how intellectually gifted we may be. One thing only remains certain: the biblical lesson from history is that God rules it, he raises up nations and takes them down, he blesses the righteous and judges the ungodly. The nations that boast in their own achievement are always in danger of being humiliated. And God has his own end indeed for history, and that is when he has gathered a full measure of redeemed people for his new creation and is ready to launch the next.

 

Bob Dunnett

There is a new Bible Page this week entitled “THE BLESSINGS OF THE RIGHTEOUS”. Go to Home Page and click Bible Page