Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 31: Are our gods too small?

REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.

Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 31: Are our gods too small?

Dr Broughton Knox used to say, you know whether someone/something is an idol, by your reaction when it is taken away. Judging by the conflicting reactions over the pandemic, I think his assessment was right. I fear that the commitment of the State Premiers and their Medical advisors is being challenged and diluted by the commitment of many to the gods of our age: an ever increasing standard of living, entertainment, socialising, gambling and sport. Up to a month ago the united effort at containing and eradicating the virus, which is another way of saying the health and welfare of the people, was paramount. But this seems to have been subtly, yet relentlessly replaced by the lobbyists for the financial and sporting/entertainment sectors. The gods of our age could only be caged for a while. Having been temporarily removed they are on the comeback trail, and being idols, have no concern for the welfare of those whose lives might be lost in the battle. For some this makes perfect sense philosophically, with the mantra of what is best for the common good, paramount. The laudable desire to keep the economy going so as to safeguard the livelihoods of those in business, along with employees now out of work must be applauded. I for one am glad that I am not the PM or one of the Premiers. I take my hat off to them, and pray for them each Sunday, and at other times, especially when attacked by some in the media, and increasingly by their opposition parties.

However, do they, who have sought to minimise the effect of inevitable economic decline, with various rescue  packages, need the constant distraction of special interest groups, be they hoteliers, sporting or business? Have we failed to consider that we are not in control of the world or even our own lives? The pandemic has  humbled and reminded us of fundamental truths. Science is not Master but it can be a wonderful servant. We rejoice that the scientific method, research and best practice, along with good economic management have been a timely gift to us all. But without the Godward perspectives: that we are not in control, are dependent on Him and that science is one of His gifts to be welcomed, but never worshipped, we can so easily think that the show must go on as it always has. Covid-19 may be an invitation to self-examination, to put aside our idols, to trust the Giver above His gifts. And all in the interest of honouring God and others.

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes that runs: though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken (4:12). What has this got to do with the pandemic I hear you thinking? If the God given gifts of good government (Romans 13:1-5), who gather and listen to wise advisors (Proverbs 15:22) coupled with citizens willing to do their part are two strands in overcoming the covid-19, then the third that will enable the rescue rope to hold firm will be a humble reliance upon God almighty. The real God, who has demonstrated His love in His Son as rescuer, will enable these initiatives to survive the deflection of lesser gods. It would be foolish to deny the importance of a stable economy or even the value of sport, but when either replaces God in our affections and desires, we surrender our freedom to live unselfishly, with our source of nourishment, security and strength surrendered to an idol, with its roots in the temporary and transient. In doing so we sell ourselves, and God short, expecting far too much from the fiction of temporal security found in economic stability and pleasure from such fickle pastimes as sport. We may even find that the same attitude toward young sports people, as expendable commodities to entertain, takes root in the subtle move from preserving lives to preserving our standard of living and entertainment. This may prove to be a price that is too much to pay and missed opportunity to reassess values that would cost us too dearly. To mortgage our future financially will cost, but the price will prove far less and deliver more dividends to our ongoing social, spiritual and mental capital. A lower standard of living may be for our good given the high levels of unhappiness and stress in our affluent culture. If people matter more than money then the continuing slide into the devaluation of unborn children and aging elders through euthanasia, may in God’s mercy, be reversed.

It is said that the person who spits into the wind spits at themselves! This is a good summary of the warning found in Galatians 6:7-10.  Where verse 7 says it all: do not be deceived God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. God would have us sow good seed, the kind that bears good fruit. Fruit that will enrich us individually and societally. Any crisis, whether personal or pandemical will be sure to reveal the weaknesses and strengths of the one in whom we trust. God is not mocked and will never let the person down who trusts His Son as Lord and Saviour, either in life as we sow to the Spirit or in death when we must front Him in all His majesty. He will neither let us down when we most need Him nor disappoint us as we daily prove His goodness.

Peter Brain 14th July, 2020


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