Living wisely in uncertain times

Boris Johnson’s first PMQs
(Copyright: UK Parliament/ Jess Taylor, CC-BY-NC-2.0)

by Philip S. Powell, Friday 6th September 2019

A friend of mine recently commented while discussing Brexit that we are living through one of the most tumultuous and uncertain periods in British history. I don’t think this is hyperbole. We are, as a country, facing an unknown and uncertain future as the date (31 October) for leaving the European Union draws near. The temptation facing us is either to push the panic button, adding further confusion to the chaos, or to take flight and escape into denial about what’s going on in society. But for Christians both of these options are simply unacceptable. We have a responsibility to respond with wisdom and a steadfastness of mind and heart that comes from our hope in Christ.

Let me mention three things that stand out as living wisely in times of uncertainty.

The way of kindness

What does kindness have to do with the public world of power struggles between opposing factions? Politics is often defined by play dirty, win dirty, so what? Of course, Machiavellian politics and kindness seldom go together. But Christians are called to something higher and better. Kindness is an attitude of the heart toward those around us and it matters in politics. Kindness is not weakness. Kindness is about transcending the binary narrative of us vs them and seeking to affirm the shared humanity of all people across the many divisions that define us. Even in times of crisis we must not give up being kind toward our adversaries. Practically speaking, this means we don’t engage in slander, misrepresentation or false accusations. We desist from being rude and contemptuous. The Bible says a kind response turns away wrath (Prov 15:1). Christians must seek to make kindness the defining mark of how we engage in politics. Imagine what difference this will make in our politics.

Being truthful and speaking the truth

The relationship between truth and politics is a complicated one. Some philosophers have argued that the two are mutually exclusive. I disagree with this view. When politics becomes divorced from truth we move away from affirming what is right and wrong at a foundational level, to what is acceptable and unacceptable to a person or group in power at the moment. It leads to a situation of anything goes and anything can be justified.

Jean Vanier wrote, ‘If we deny our weakness and the reality of death, if we want to be powerful and strong always, we deny a part of our being, we live an illusion.’ Political leaders and powerful people are often trapped in illusions of self-grandeur. Sadly, they use their wealth and power to hide their inner brokenness, fearful of being caught-out or exposed for some wrongdoing. And the abuse of power by leaders in authority is the direct consequence of the widening gap between the public outer-world and their hidden inner-brokenness. The two worlds cannot be inseparably disconnected from each other. We cannot change the state of our politics without first asking questions about the morality that governs the private lives of our leaders. And beyond that we must face our own inner brokenness and dishonesty.

The key word here is integrity. Christians are called to be people of integrity and this matters especially in times of crisis. It is not truth as an abstract concept but the embodied reality of being a truthful person. In the midst of misinformation and fake news, living truthfully and speaking the truth is a subversive act. It is costly and has the potential to transform our politics.

Servant leadership

Finally, there is something profoundly significant about walking the way of servanthood in a world increasingly defined by short-sighted smash and grab politics. These days anything and everything gets justified in politics because there is always someone else to blame for doing the wrong thing. Being offended has come to have a moral status worthy of recognition, and everywhere people seem to be carrying some kind of offence caused by what another person or group has said or done. Our culture is defined more by an ethic of victim-affirmation and grievance-rectification than by an ethic of responsibility for doing the right thing. How should Christians respond to this kind of a culture that defines our politics?

Jesus said it best: ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matt. 20:25-28)

This attitude and way of life that Jesus calls us to has deep significance for our times. Instead of looking for who to blame and the next thing to complain about, as Christians we must become proactive in seeking to go out of our way to serve others. We refuse to become passive participants in a culture that elevates blaming and shaming, and instead look for active ways to be agents of servanthood. And this commitment to serve must go beyond our church activities and include things we would usually call secular.  

People in our society during times of crisis feel disheartened and disillusioned and we have an opportunity to make a difference in their lives. If we are willing to walk the way of kindness, become bold truth-speakers and embrace servanthood, then we will begin to have a tremendous positive influence on our culture and politics. This is my hope and prayer for my own life during these times of uncertainty and crisis. 

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Category: Blogs

September, 2019

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