Posts Tagged ‘Nottingham’

Lunchbar: What would Jesus say about the recession?

October 30, 2009

Lunchbar today at Nottingham was on the topic of the current economic situation. For many of us, as our speaker observed, this is not just an academic question but one in which we have a personal stake. Most students are finding it harder to afford things, many of them have parents or relatives who are in difficult circumstances, some students have had to leave university as their parents cannot afford to support them. In addition, it is harder for graduates to find jobs when they leave university. So it’s a big issue.

It’s also hard to guess what God would actually say about the recession in particular, so we have to be careful. But there are some things that the Bible does say about God that might help us see what might be going on. God is completely in control of the economic situation, and has a purpose in it. Isaiah 45:7 reads:

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

So the recession isn’t somehow beyond God’s control – but what might God be trying to bring out of it? Without wanting to claim to have the definitive answer to that question, we can perhaps suggest three things that the recession can teach us.

First, the recession opens our eyes to the situation that many people in the world live in all the time. In the West, recessions tend to come and go, and we perhaps have got used to the idea that things tend to improve over the long run, allowing for the occasional blip. But in many parts of the world this just isn’t the case, and there is massive poverty. Compare Britain with Zimbabwe – the British unemployment rate is about 7%; in Zimbabwe it is more like 94%. The average Zimbabwean earns just $0.30 a month, several thousand times less than the average Briton. So perhaps the recession can show us a little bit of what it is like to be poor – as the majority of the people in the world are.

Second, the economic crisis shows us something of what sin is. We see it quite easily in those who are responsible for the economic crisis – those in banking and finance whose greed has led to the current crisis. We rightly feel aggrieved at this, and can see how wrong a lot of the exploitation that has gone on in the financial world is.


But as we recognise the sinfulness of the greed and exploitation that has gone on in the financial sector, so we too should take the opportunity afforded us by the recession to recognise that the same disease afflicts us too. Isn’t the reason that we haven’t done exactly what the bankers have done more to do with the fact that we haven’t had the power and opportunity to exploit, rather than us being morally superior? If we’re honest, we can see the potential within ourselves for exploiting others for financial gain, given the chance. So the recession also shows our own sinfulness to us and helps us to realise that we need God to create a clean heart in us and cleanse us from our corruption.

Finally, the recession can teach us that money is not everything, and is a fickle friend. The recession has shown that even those who are wealthy can easily lose their wealth; that money is an insecure source of security. People talk a lot of the comparitive risks of every investment, but even the relatively safe investments can become devalued; and in any case are no insurance against the inevitability of death. If money is not a good source of our ultimate security, then what is? Ultimately, the Christian gospel claims, it can only be found in Christ and in his Kingdom. So the recession could function to turn us to God by showing up the transience and insecurity of what we have been trusting in.

First name… Ali?

August 14, 2009

… this came through our letterbox today.


Well…  it says “Genuine”. I’m convinced.

Should swine flu close churches?

June 27, 2009

A large church here in Nottingham has taken the decision to suspend their Sunday meetings this week after a member of their office staff caught swine flu. There have been an increasing number of cases in the East Midlands over the past two weeks, though as far as I can gather there are still fewer than a hundred people in the region (population 4.2 million) affected. I have to say my initial reaction was disappointment – I don’t think that an outbreak of swine flu should close a church; though I can see why the church in question might have taken the decision they did.

At a stage where the health authorities are trying to quarantine cases of swine flu, as in the East Midlands (unlike in the West Midlands where containment is now impractical) it could be seen as selfish for Christians to put the community at risk by holding large public meetings when there is a known case of swine flu in the congregation. But I think it’s only really possible to see it as selfish if a church service is viewed as being a social gathering, like a social club meeting – but this is not what a church service is. A church service is somewhere where the word of God should be being preached and where people can worship him together in a visible expression of the Church’s unity in Christ. As such, the church service also serves the community by providing an opportunity for people to hear the gospel proclaimed. I don’t think this should be cancelled because of a comparatively mild virus. In fact, I don’t think it should be cancelled even in the case of an epidemic with a high mortality rate, because dying prematurely through disease is not the worst thing that can happen to people. Dying not right with God is the worst thing that can happen to people, and cancelling the most obvious public proclamation of Christ, who makes us right with God, would be perverse in a situation where mortality was increasing due to disease.

Perhaps suspending church services (even if done with the motive of appearing unselfish) gives the wrong impression to the community of what Christian priorities and attitudes to death are. Does it not say that spiritual health is less important than physical health; when this is not so? Does it not say that sin is a less serious illness than swine flu? And perhaps worst of all, does it not undermine the Christian claim that Jesus has defeated death and that those who trust in him have nothing to fear from it?

The sociologist of religion, Rodney Clark, put forward the view in his book The Rise of Christianity (Princeton: 1996) that Christianity flourished in the second and third centuriesAD partly because of the difference in the Christians’ response to the plagues of their day, as witnessed to in a letter of Dionysius, quoted by Eusebius here:

The most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death. And the popular saying which always seems a mere expression of courtesy, they then made real in action, taking their departure as the others’ ‘offscouring’.

This response was due to the difference in the Christians’ theology, not any socio-economic factors. Stark writes (pp.79-81):

… let us imagine ourselves in their places, faced with one of these terrible epidemics. Here we are in a city stinking of death. All around us, our family and friends are dropping. We can never be sure if and when we will fall sick too. In the midst of such appalling circumstances, human beings are driven to ask Why? Why is this happening? Why them and not me? Will we all die? Why does the world exist anyway? What is going to happen next? What can we do?
If we are pagans, we probably already know that our priests profess ignorance. They do not know why the gods have sent such misery – or if, in fact, the gods are involved or even care. Worse yet, many of our priests have fled the city, as have the highest civil authorities and the wealthiest families, which adds to the disorder and suffering.
Suppose that instead of being pagans we are philosophers. Even if we reject the gods and profess one or another school of Greek philosophy, we still have no answers. Natural law is no help in saying why suffering abounds, at least not if we try to find
meaning in the reasons. […]
But if we are Christians, our faith does claim to have answers. McNeill summed them up this way:

Another advantage Christians enjoyed over pagans was that the teaching of their faith made life meaningful even amid sudden and surprising death … [E]ven a shattered remnant of survivors who had somehow made it through war or pestilence or both could find warm, immediate and healing consolation in the vision of a heavenly existence for those missing relatives and friends … Christianity was, therefore, a system of thought and feeling thoroughly adapted to a time of troubles in which hardship, disease, and violent death commonly prevailed.

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, seems almost to have welcomed the great epidemic of his time. Writing in 251 he claimed that only non-Christians had anything to fear from the plague. Moreover, he noted that although

the just are dying with the unjust, it is not for you to think that the destruction is a common one for both the evil and the good. The just are called to refreshment, the unjust are carried off to torture … How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race; whether the well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, whether masters show compassion for their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted … Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God, that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death.

This kind of attitude is the one that the gospel fosters in Christians. Disease and death are not to be feared, but constitute an opportunity to prove both the genuineness of our faith and that the Christian way works. In response to the swine flu pandemic, we modern Christians have a choice of whether to “flee the city” and cancel church meetings as Roman pagans would have done, or to be as transformed by the gospel as these early Christians were, and to remain fearless of disease, knowing that our inheritance in heaven is secure and that God is in control – and to continue to proclaim the gospel to the community around us, and minister in Christ to the sick, even if it means we ourselves suffer as a result. May God grant us all the strength to witness faithfully to the gospel if swine flu does get severe, and may his perfect love cast out all fear.