This morning I listened to a meditation on Isaiah (surprise, surprise!). In Chapter 2, verses 3-5 when Isaiah is talking about the eventual rule of God he says ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.’
The meditation touched very lightly on that phrase ‘nor will they train for war any more’ and in it I heard an echo that, at first, I just couldn’t place. Then it came to me… an old old Nat King Cole song ‘I ain’t gonna study war no more’ which went on to be covered by Pete Seeger, Louis Armstrong and a dozen more. So, of course, I had to sing it to the waves. And now it’s an ear worm. Bother.
As a teenager in the fabulous 60’s, I must have heard that banal song a hundred times, but I had never realised that this phrase was from Isaiah. I think that we in the West have forgotten how privileged we are that the Bible has become part of our culture, sown deep into the tapestry of every day living, so deep that it’s almost indiscernible. So often a Biblical truth is repeated by people who have no idea that it’s from the Bible, and if asked they might say ‘It’s something my Gran always said” or “Is it Shakespeare? Yes, I think it must be Shakespeare.” And yes, of course it’s sad that the Bible is not widely read and that these truths are not attributed to God, but an understanding of goodness has become an integral part of our society, in a way that just hasn’t happened in non-Christian environments. There is a deep and lasting understanding that kindness is good and cruelty is bad wherever the Bible is read, while in places like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, where the Bible is forbidden, the atmosphere is one of hatred, brutality and bitter merciless rage, beastial fury feeding upon itself, spreading ever further, ever deeper. And this is seen , by the religious leaders, as a good thing, a sign of devotion to god. Young people aspire to be angry, hate-filled and murderous.
Without God, this is what mankind looks like.
But the Bible is powerful, its influence is – to continue the fabric analogy – woven into the weft and weave of our lives. It cannot be silenced, God will not be defeated, and one day God will be triumphant. The gospel of love will win. Thank God. Thank God, because although we are a million miles from perfect, although we fail again and again, in a system that’s too often corrupt, without the influence of the Bible we could be where Afghanistan is right now.
Try to imagine the West without the Bible. I can’t. Imagine that there was no Holy Island, no Patrick travelling from Greece to Ireland, no Augustine, no monasteries caring for the poor and sick. I think we could have survived without all these things but then the question looms large – what would have replaced them? Something, for sure, to fill the ‘God shaped hole’ in man, but what? The world is a brutal bloody place, even with the influence of Christianity and indeed Christians have often been among the most brutal, but Christ was always there, to reprove and guide, our example and teacher. Without him, without his Spirit… what?
I cannot imagine this country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give it its full title) without the historical influence of the Word, which is Jesus. What political system would we follow? Who would have created our government? Would we have despots or committees, would we have been secretive and authoritarian or chaotic and anarchic? Who or what would we worship? Think about that with me for a moment; without Christ what would you or I worship today? I heard this in a great sermon a couple of years ago; “If God is not the centre of your life, something else will be.” What would we worship without the guidance of the Spirit? What sort of society would have shaped us? How would we view death? Would our men follow a list of arbitrary rules to ‘earn’ the 70 virgins so obscenely promised by some beliefs? Would we sacrifice to idols, desperately searching for meaning, consumed by fear? What would our world look like?
Thank God for God, indeed.
Even the most rabid anti-Christian, brought up in a society influenced by the Bible (someone like Richard Dawkins) has been shaped by the Word of God, powerfully influential over centuries. It is knitted in our bones, coursing through our blood, imprinted on our DNA.
But before we get complacent, us cosy people in the West with our ‘civilised’ values, maybe we should step back and look at the awful failings of the society we have built, even with the Bible in our clumsy hands… and we should have some compassion for those who have not had this great privilege. We are not so different. Our hearts should go out to those fierce, hate-filled men carrying kalashnikovs, beating the crowds at Kabul airport with lengths of hose. Our hearts should reach out to them in prayer. Each savage man is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father. They are not so different from you or me. Some are loved, some are sick, some are maddened by the things they’ve seen and done. There, but for the Grace of God, his Word and the faithful teaching of so many generations, go I.
Right there, but for the grace of God, am I.
What would the UK look like if it really was a Christian society, if we truly turned to God? We are told the answer in Galatians 5: 2&23
But the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit within you is divine love in all its varied expressions:
joy that overflows, peace that subdues, patience that endures,
kindness in action, faith that prevails, gentleness of heart,
and strength of spirit.
That’s the Passion Translation. Lovely, eh?
Peace, patience, kindness, faith, gentleness and strength. That’s my prayer for the Taliban. Forgiveness and love.