3He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Isaiah 53:3 – Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible
34’I give you a new commandment: that you should love each other as I have loved you, so that you also should love each other. 35By this, all will know that you are my disciples: if you have love among yourselves.’
18 “You shall not avenge nor carry any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh…..”
Leviticus 19: 18 – Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible
Cartoon courtesy of Bob Moran
Fifty years ago, when I was a young adult, my recollection (and I hope I’m not looking through rose-tinted spectacles) is that our country was mostly courteous, tolerant and compassionate. And certainly my generation, as we grew up, was taught that it was our responsibility to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. When I worked in the charitable sector, up to 2005, I was genuinely proud of the fact that our charitable sector was larger than that of the whole of the rest of Europe combined. I’m not sure whether that’s still true, but in 2019, the last year for which we have data, the UK gave €51.3 billion to charitable causes. In contrast, Germany gave €22.3 billion, France €9.6 billion and Spain €3.8 billion.
Also, fifty years ago, we were known for our (sometimes excessive) politeness. If we disagreed vehemently with someone, we’d been taught to be courteous, polite and tolerant of others and mostly to keep our views to ourselves. Under no circumstances was it polite to discuss religion or politics in someone else’s home – we might disagree, and that would be to fail to respect our host.
I genuinely find it difficult to understand how we’ve moved from that position, to one where if people disagree with us, there’s an expectation that we’ll shout them down, or report them to the Police, or, if we’re in a position to do so, ‘cancel them’, in the modern parlance.
How did that change happen? Is my generation at fault for the way that we’ve brought up our children?
There are some issues that are easier to point to than others. The biblical passages that I’ve quoted above are all ones that my generation knew by heart from an early age. Is that now true of the generations that follow? I don’t know, but I suspect not.
Part of the problem may be language. Anyone who’s studied any Greek at all knows that there are many words that are translated into English as the one word ‘love’. And maybe therefore, people switch off when told to ‘love’ others? ‘How on earth could I love a complete stranger?’ Certainly, when I heard ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ as a young boy, I thought there must be something wrong, as ‘loving’ yourself was a trait known as narcissism – something we should not be encouraging anyone else to do.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the word ‘compassion’ comes to English via the two Latin words that mean ‘to suffer together’ with someone else. We can’t do that, unless we can teach each other to see the world through the eyes of others.
So do we?
I feel the need to ask a few questions about our experience of recent years:
- How would you feel if you were told that you’d not only lose your livelihood, but also be ostracised from society, denied access to medical care, fined thousands of pounds per month and be locked in your home, if you didn’t agree to have a medical procedure?
- How would you feel if you said to the employees in your department, in frustration: ‘If you won’t agree, then we might as well all cut our throats’ and then be accused of calling for the throats of those people to be cut?
- How would you feel if you were told that by voting ‘the wrong way’ you would become responsible for the end of democracy?
- How would you feel if you were told that if you love your country, you must be a bigot and a racist and that you must agree instead to hate your country?
- How would you feel if someone told you that their need to demonstrate was more important than your need to be able to get to your father’s funeral on time?
- How would you feel if someone told you that their need for a 17% pay rise trumped your need to be treated when ill?
- How would you feel if, when you said that no stone should be left unturned in seeking a peace settlement in Ukraine, you were called a ‘Putin apologist’?
- How would you feel if you were told that by thinking that a woman cannot have a penis, you need to be ‘cancelled’, silenced, arrested or even locked up?
- How would you feel if your other half had died, with the Death Certificate stating that he or she had died as a result of taking the COVID ‘vaccine’ and others were telling you that you’d just been unlucky and you should stop moaning?
These questions are, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg.
So what, as Christians or perhaps would-be Christians, can we do about all this?
My suggestions are these:
- As Christians we owe it to others to provide hope for those who’ve lost all hope. Hope can be found in the story of Jesus, if only we can find the time to look and study
- We owe it to ourselves as Christians to try to live our lives believing that God loves us as the special, unique and precious beings that we are
- We owe it to ourselves, if we feel we can’t actually love ourselves, then at least to try to be at peace with ourselves, as God’s loved creatures
- We owe it to others, even if we find we can’t actually love them, then at least to accept them as they are, warts and all, and just as God made them
- We owe it to others to accept that we’re all individuals, and that our job is not to try to cajole or browbeat others to become exactly like us, but to accept them as they are
- We owe it to others to do our best to see the world through the eyes of others, accepting that people have their own fears, challenges and concerns, in other words to show compassion
- We owe it to ourselves and to others to accept that life is incredibly hard for the vast majority of people, and the least we can do is to try not to make life harder for others than it already is
- We owe it to ourselves and to others to try to articulate our views of what we think are honest and sincere thoughts and to do our tiny bit to try to create a more humane form of society
Father, we accept that we’re all full of human frailty and weakness. Grant us the strength, Lord, to try to share your love for us with others who may be suffering; to use your hope to instil hope in others who have no hope; to try to relieve the fears of others, the way you relieve ours. And above all, to try to treat others with genuine tolerance and compassion, however much we may disagree with them. Amen