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It's time to look for hope, writes Richard Dawson.
If the Church conjures up a vision of crusty buildings half-filled with crusty people, then I can understand your thoughts as you begin to read.
The Church, for various reasons, has not found it easy to live out the fullness of its vision with the kind of vigour and variety which truly does justice to what the Bible says.
Again, if the Church conjures up a vision of bias and rejection; of opinions you find distasteful and unloving again, I can understand why this would be and, as a Christian minister, I deeply regret how this has come about.
The truth is that God is so much bigger than either the Church or any individuals within it and though the Church does its best, at times, to represent the God of the Bible and has been given a specific job to do in relation to this knowledge, it is a very human institution with very human flaws and, at times, it not only gets it wrong but it actually betrays the God it believes in.
Perhaps the only thing left at such times is to forget about any kind of self-justification and simply point to the wisdom, logic and the beauty of the One whom the Church worships.
The human face of God is one whom the Church calls Jesus Christ. That He lived, loved and died are perhaps the most well-established historical facts in our possession from this period. That He rose again is beyond human logic but is still well attested historically. What is also clear is that His influence in and over history has been and continues to be good.
Jesus championed the poor, healed the sick, defended refugees and spoke out against the religious bigots of His day.
He demanded no payment, He treated women as real people who could offer so much more to society than the ability to have and raise children and He eschewed violence and the wrongful use of power.
In short, He left the world with a legacy of ethical behaviour which has stood the test of time and which has resisted lasting criticism. Such things as Jesus taught may well have come from a very different age from ours, but they have proven to be of lasting benefit to all who have been able to have access to them. There is simply no substitute for the benefits which flow from His simple, but powerful, advice . . . ‘‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’’. ‘‘Forgive those who do wrong to you.’’ ‘‘Love one another as I have loved you.’’ ‘‘Those who live by the sword will also die by it.’’ ‘‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’’ ‘‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’’
Such advice has changed and continues to change the world, moulding it into a more loving and gentle society despite the deeply ingrained instinct towards domination and power which is a part of the human psyche.
What we have now in the West, and anywhere where the Gospel has had a significant chance to work, is simply better than before. Does anyone want to go back to deeply entrenched annual wars between people who can’t look any further than their own tribal connections or to the callous killing of innocents in service of angry gods?
Does anyone want to revert to a culture which supports and encourages revenge killings and capital punishment? Does anyone want to do away with the compassion for the poor which Jesus insisted was a part of a godly society?
Human frailty is evident everywhere. I am the first to admit this. Neither in the Church nor in society do we find all things working perfectly or even well at times.
The Church in particular has a chequered record in the West over the past 100 years or so, but it has continued to point people to the one real hope we all have and this is the living example of Christ’s life and teaching.
This, above all else, remains a beacon of light and hope for all who will look up.
So I invite you as we set out on 2020 to look again at the life of Christ and, if you will, call out to this Jesus of Nazareth to bring His light into your life.
- The Rev Richard Dawson is the minister at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Leith Valley, Dunedin.