A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Terror and the Kingdom
There is a sense in which we should not be surprised by the presence of evil, violence and terror in the world. It seems worse now because the weaponry is more developed and modern communications make us more aware of it. But it started with the murder of Abel and was endemic by the time of Amos (Genesis 4:8; Amos 1:3–15). Jesus warned us to expect good and evil to co-exist in the world (Matthew 13:24–30, 36- 43; Mark 13:7–8). They even co-exist in us (Romans 7:14–25). On the Sunday after ’9/11’ the lectionary Gospel reading was Luke 15:1 10 (the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin). I found it helped me to reflect on the nature of terrorism and of a Christian response, and to meet the confusion of those who said “I don’t know what to think about it”. It has proved similarly helpful again in the wake of the London bombings.
The parable of the Good Shepherd points us to two complementary values:
~**The value of the individual. The Shepherd risks his life for a single sheep – 1 % of the flock - an insignificant proportion in terms of economics or statistics. *~~*The value of community. From the point of view of the Kingdom, the flock is diminished by the loss of one individual (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26 – ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together’).**~
Terrorism operates by one main value: the cause, be it political independence, ‘holy war’, animal rights, or whatever. The individual counts for nothing: the suicide bomber is expendable; the victim of terror is expendable. Similarly, communities count for nothing. They can be torn apart. The cause is everything.
God and his Kingdom are about relationships, and God models this in himself, in the Trinity. Sin destroys relationships (Genesis 3). Sin is about power for me, for myself. I become the cause for which I will do anything. This is where the roots of terror lie.
But it is not quite as simple as that. You cannot blame it all on the devil. Terrorist movements often have their immediate cause in particular failures of leadership on the part of those against whom they operate.
It has been suggested that one of the reasons behind 9/11 was the perceived arrogance of the USA, as the world’s most powerful nation, in presuming to run the world in America’s own interests. Chechens would probably say the same about Russia, and Palestinians about Israel. Some would link the London bombings with what they see as British ‘interference’ in Iraq. Such situations betray failures of leadership and spawn terrorism.
The Bible frequently uses the Shepherd as an image of leadership, whether referring to God or to human kings; e.g. Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34. Jesus the Good Shepherd models incarnational, servant leadership. As a shepherd in the east shares the life of his flock, so God in Jesus shared our human life, in order to care for his people, especially the weakest, to provide for their needs and to protect them from danger.
Leaders, therefore, should be in touch with their people, aware of their real needs, rather than pursuing doctrinaire party policies. It is certainly not good enough for them to live in luxurious isolation from those they govern, especially when the governed are mostly poor. Leaders must live in the real world. In contrast, terrorist leaders often live in safe havens, from a safe distance directing fanatical followers to their deaths.
The quality of world leadership has a vital role to play in preventing and overcoming terrorism.
We have to recognise that we cannot escape being implicated in human sinfulness. As Jesus pointed out, there is little difference in God’s eyes between violent thoughts and violent actions (Matthew 5:21–24). We are all capable of creating situations of confrontation, which can often lead to violence.
So we, not just the terrorists or the failed world leaders, need to repent of humanity’s offence against God and against fellow human beings. We share the same humanity and the same sinfulness. Remember Daniel. If anyone was not implicated in the sins of his people, it was he, but in his great prayer of repentance (Daniel 9) he associated himself with Israel’s sins.
Further, of course, we need to pray:
~**For the victims of terror (and do anything practical we can to help);*~~*For the terrorists themselves, that they may turn from their evil ways and find God’s, and their victims’, forgiveness. It is a central principle of our Christian faith, and of our Methodist understanding of it, that no-one is beyond the reach of God’s grace;*~~*For ‘Good Shepherd’ qualities in our world leaders;*~~*For less talk of revenge and more acknowledgement that it has taken both sides to create the confrontations out of which terrorism is born.**~
Where is God when bombs explode? He is there, with those who in their dying moments call out to him; with those grieving; with those working themselves to breaking point in their rescue efforts. We do not worship a God who exercises his leadership from the safe haven of heaven by remote control. He is the Good Shepherd who, eastern style, lives with his flock.
But as such a God he challenges us: where are we? It is too easy to retreat into the safe haven of church. We need, also, to be in touch with the real world, with those who feel alienated from the communities in which we live, who are caught up in confrontational situations which could easily escalate into violence, who find it difficult to build relationships with people who are different from themselves. It is significant to note that, both at home and overseas, community development is becoming an increasingly important aspect of mission. Jesus called us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16). The message of reconciliation with which we have been entrusted (2 Corinthians 5:20) is only first about reconciliation to God. It is also about building God’s new community (Ephesians 2:16– 8) which will live by Kingdom values.