You may have noticed that I don’t read devotional books. I just don’t. But because a friend is reading ‘Mere Christianity’ I’m making an exception. It’s great. It’s absolutely blinkin’ fab. Honestly, the first three chapters (I keep going back over them, they’re so good) are completely engrossing. All about .. erm… how can I put it without taking up three chapters? Well, those first few pages are all about why we humans adopt a belief in right and wrong, why we share a common view (historically and largely) about what is good and what is bad, and about the simple fact that good is always good and bad is always bad. C.S.Lewis says it about 123 times better. Read it if you haven’t already – I do recommend it.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about what he calls ‘the moral law’ and it’s enlightening and unsettling at the same time. I see the world, when I look through Lewis’s eyes, as a very perverse place. With those chapters in my head, I listened to the news this evening, and then to a political debate. Afterwards I had to go outside to stand under the wide dark heavens, catching my breath, remembering that there is more to the universe than this. More to life than this moment now, in this tiny shabby country.
The UK is in turmoil. A documentary has shown that the state of some psychiatric hospitals is like the worst prisons in Eastern Europe in the 1950s – the ward staff are brutally coarse, undisciplined, lazy, abusive, obscene. They loll around, sleep on duty, swear, offer no therapy, insult their patients, jeer at them, gang up on them. Assault them. Shocking. The senior staff are absent and uninterested, unprofessional and unaccountable. Patients are locked in solitary for weeks on end, punished for being ill. They would receive much better accomodation and treatment in the worst of our prisons. This is our NHS and these are our brothers and sisters, our daughters and sons. I am shaken.
It gets worse; it’s estimated that out in the community we need another 4,200 doctors, and 40,000 nurses. Tonight there’s a heart breaking report about a fit young man who contracted an ear infection but was unable to get a consultation with his doctor, instead he had four, FOUR telephone conversations over a 4 week period, each time with a different physician from his GP practice. His blood tests didn’t come through, no one took his pain and illness seriously, and a few days after his fourth telephone call he died, of a simple ear infection that spread to his brain. This is our NHS, the health care system that was once celebrated, that offered care to everyone.
It gets worse; the new Prime Minister has made swingeing changes to the tax regime but refused an offer by The Office of Budget Responsibility to provide an economic forecast, advising on the effects of the budget. And now the government refuses to give any details about expected economic growth. This situation is unprecedented. Whether or not the government is doing the right thing (who knows?) the situation is cloudy and confusing and not great for a sense of fiscal security, for investment and growth. A reader’s poll in the Conservative Times newspaper today showed that less than 20% of its readers had faith in the government’s fiscal policy.
It gets worse; mortgage lenders, reacting to the uncertainty about future growth are in chaos. People in the middle of arranging mortgages now have had them withdrawn, and must seek a new deal – one woman on TV tonight was on course for a mortgage interest rate of less than 3% and today that offer was dumped and the best deal she was offered was interest at over 10%. Overnight!
There are two new-build houses near me that had ‘sold’ notices on them on Friday, today they are both for sale again. I suppose that the mortgages have been withdrawn or the rates are too high for the buyers. I know the builder – just last month he told me that if he didn’t sell them for far more than even he thought they were worth, he would lose money. This is because the cost of many building materials has doubled in the last few months. It’s taken him two years to build them and after paying wages and costs, his business will fold.
It gets worse; realising that the sums don’t add up, the PM has announced that future benefit payments will not be linked to the rate of inflation but instead will be linked to wages. This could seem like an entirely cynical response to the realisation that with her budget measures, inflation will soar while wages will remain stagnant. I hope it’s not cynical but….
It gets worse; while the basic rate of income tax will be cut by just enough to benefit the average person by £176 per annum, those at the top of the money mountain will on average benefit by £10,000 per annum.
It gets worse; in the shops prices are soaring. Even bread is more expensive, fish and chicken have almost doubled in price. How does a young family cope with all this? When even two wages aren’t enough to pay the rent and feed the children, what are they supposed to do?
By this evening, by that political debate, I began to feel that good was losing and evil was on the ascendancy. That’s not what I believe, but that’s how it seemed. That’s when I walked out into the lovely silent velvet night of Wales. And that’s when…. listen…. I remembered something. Something lovely. I remembered that as I came out of the supermarket this morning, I saw something that lifted my heart. The box where items are donated to the Foodbank was full to overflowing. Full to overflowing! There were two people ahead of me in the queue, trying to find space for the stuff they were leaving. People care for each other, even when the establishment crashes around our ears. At times like this, people are kind. Goodness wins. Goodness wins.
‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have conquered the world.’ John 16:33
Man can scheme and fume and duck and dive but God is in charge. He holds all things together. However weak and lost or mad and bad and chaotic we are, he is constant, loving, faithful.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Good one, Habbakuk.