The Rector writes…
In her reaction to the tower block fire tragedy in North Kensington, the Queen talked of a sombre mood which has gripped the people of this country. The terrible events of the past weeks in Manchester and on the streets of our own city have caused grave concern, and it is with a certain trepidation that any of us listens to the news each morning. Just as one has convinced oneself that things could get no worse, they do just that. Of course, what has happened in our own society has to be set against the wider context of what is being endured in other parts of the world – natural disaster in Portugal, and the continuing horror of Syria to point to just two of the more obvious current disasters. But the London Bridge outrage and the attack in Finsbury Park are, respectively, not more than couple of miles to the east and the north of where we are situated in Spanish Place and we have been left in no doubt as to the proximity, as well as the potency, of evil.
Despite every sign to the contrary – and at times these appear almost overwhelming – Christians remain people of hope. This is not naivety. After the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which shattered the European optimism that the 18th century was the best of all possible times in which to live, Voltaire (free-thinking but ultimately not God-denying) famously wrote “Candide”, ridiculing the Christian attempt to make excuse for natural disaster. Saint Paul writing to the Corinthians (1:1, 17-31) reminds us that human and divine logic do not necessarily coincide, and that our conviction as to how God should act does not always echo the Divine purpose. Candide fell into the trap of trying to explain the inexplicable. We must not do the same. That God does take the human condition painfully seriously – as, too, the fallen state of the universe of which it is part – is given proof positive in the passion of Christ, where the Father’s role is not to act as a “deus ex machina”, but as the One who allows his Son to drink the chalice of suffering to the bitterest of endings. The Trinitarian God in whom we believe does not try to deny the full consequences of evil – rather those consequences are faced head-on, within his own heart.
Christian hope does not find its source in the human capacity to accept or believe – it can never be a matter of hoping against hope. Rather our hope is centred in the person of Jesus Christ: in what he has done, in what he is, and in what he promises. “Hope, O my soul, hope” says Saint Teresa of Avila, and the Letter to the Hebrews advises: “let us hold fast the confession of our faith without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (10.23). In accepting the cross for himself, Jesus made clear that discipleship involves a personal share in the cross, and for some that burden can be very heavy. Nowhere in the Gospels is there an escape clause. The only way open to God – and therefore to us in turn – is that of patient, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. “We are we to love, then, because he loved us first “(1 John 4:19). To hope is not to look for a way out of present realities but rather to see them in the context of God’s eternity. “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12).
Hope (which is inseparable from the other theological virtues of faith and charity) should underscore the responsibility and capacity of each of us to work for the coming Kingdom of God. It is our belief that in the final Lordship of Christ everything will be shown up in its true light and that love alone will endure. In the interim, faith and good works must move hand in hand. In the midst of present uncertainties, we should reassure one another that this is God’s world and that he is sovereign: in conforming our lives to the Gospel, we bring nearer the final account of evil and the vindication of all that is just and true. “God’s ways are the ways he himself walked and that we must now walk with him” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).