Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 56. Drowning in Confusion & Uncertainty
Psa 15:1-3 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others;
Today: We are considering facets of the culture in which we live in the West today, things that threaten the lives and spiritual wellbeing of God’s people. Today we come to consider truth. Truth is important to God as the verses above show, and yet today we live in a time when truth and integrity are in short supply. Let me give you some examples of things that have stood out to me over the years in respect of truth that have contributed to getting us where we are today.
A Downward Slope: I have testified on these pages before that for seventeen years from the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s I taught Law. Each year as I started the course off I gave the students various group exercises about laws, rules, etc. and asked them did they believe there were absolutes, did they believe there were such things as right and wrong. At the beginning of the period in the late 1970’s about 1 in 60 said no. Over the years there was a gradual change so that by the mid 1990’s they all said, no, there were no absolutes, no such things as right and wrong. Britain last century.
A Dubious President: I have always been a fan of Alistair Cooke who died in March 2004, having been an avid listener to his weekly quarter of an hour “Letter from America”. In August 1998 he did a talk following President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky (and at least two others previously, all well documented) and the president’s four-minute address to the nation excusing himself for having lied to his wife and the nation. Cooke noted that a poll showed that 60% of the American population said that he lied, while 60% said that despite that he was a good president and should not be impeached. Cooke went on to consider what was meant by ‘moral authority’ and ended up citing a senior retired politician who suggested that those 60% were as morally guilty as the president. The key point was that the majority of the American population divorced personal immorality from public service achievement. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that today it is often suggested that what a person does in their private life should not be used as a criticism of them in their public role. America with a blot on its name.
President & Prime Minister: Both the UK and the USA have a foreign affairs history where we have supported seriously dubious world leaders on the basis of ‘love my enemy against my bigger enemy’. Neither of us have a good record in respect of international integrity. But when it comes to weighing the truth and getting it wrong, possibly the best example was that of George W Bush and Tony Blair embarking on a war against a nation that apparently had weapons of mass destruction – but didn’t! – and without an understanding of the religious nuances of the country they were attacking, and without a plan how to deal with the aftermath. The key issue that released all that was ‘questionable truth’. US and UK adrift.
UK & Brexit: And so we come up to date in observing the cultures and leaders of our communities in which we live today. Two years ago the UK held a referendum in which a majority clearly voted to leave the European Union. Since then there has been outright war, partly operated through the media, a war of truth. So great was this that earlier in 2018 a large group of academics established a website to counter the untruths that were being spoken. I could document this war in detail but will overcome that temptation. But consider what is happening here. In any ordinary election one party gets a majority and are elected and that is it (vote-rigging aside – but that didn’t happen here). We accept the vote of the majority as an outcome of democracy, and although we may grumble about this party that wasn’t ‘ours’, we accept it. Except with Brexit that hasn’t been happening. There have been big names (Tony Blair being one – where have we heard that name before?) and big money being offered to establish campaigns to overthrow or rather reverse this vote. So much for democracy, so much for truth and integrity. Britain again.
A Presidential Negotiator: I hesitate to make comment in this area as I have good Christian friends in the States who highly esteem your present president. He clearly has an agenda which appears to have some merits and maybe some not so good, but that is true of any politician and our individual views, isn’t it? But what has caused so much consternation has been the apparent contradictory approach to truth. I have seen the newsreels where he has said one thing one day and the next day said the exact opposite excusing with such words as, “I didn’t really say that right,” or “that was not what I meant.” This is not about the media’s take on these things, but the actual words spoken. Some excuse the approach saying he is not a politician but a business negotiator. Traditional politicians used the ‘pork barrel’ analogy to get money for their district by negotiating with Government on the basis of “we will vote for this is you give us some money for our district.” Tit for tat negotiation.
The President appears to use a contractor’s approach of “I’m giving you nothing. I will demand a high price / tax or whatever, and while you worry about it for the next few weeks, I’ll let you put in a bid higher than you might have done before, and I’ll let you ease me down towards that.” Legitimate perhaps but different and challenging for politicians and media alike. The apostle Paul said, “Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?” (2 Cor 1:17) That sounds incredibly like that which the newsreels are showing. Does the end justify the means? Not in God’s book. Clever tactics maybe, but ones which are sowing mistrust, doubt, questioning and a demeaning of the image of the US abroad. Intriguingly these trends today are producing a spate of books to seek to handle what is going on, e.g.” A Field Guide to Lies”, and “Win Bigly”, both signs that confirm what I have been saying.
Fake News: Wikipedia defines it as follows: “Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” Call it what you like, ‘fake news’ is untruths, lies. However these is a distinction to be made in our understanding between ‘information’ (data) and opinions. If half of what is said on the Internet is true, then we are living in a world where nations hack the computers of other countries and also disseminate ‘information’ which is untrue. No doubt one day someone will produce an authoritative record of exactly what was said and what was actually true in the last presidential election in the USA and my implication as a mere observer is that the two things are probably not the same. In the realm of government and opposition predictions at election times, we should be very clear that rarely do any of the predictions work out. A confusing world.
The Impact: Now if this is the world in which we live then it is not surprising that there is a new sense of confusion and uncertainty that causes worry, antagonism and a general air of political rivalry rarely seen before in the modern Western world. A leading respectable member of the UK Parliament recently said, “I have been in Parliament forty years and I’ve never known a time of such hatred and bitterness and I’ve never known such a sense of drift.” And as one leading churchman added, “These are big things that we cannot control from (where we are) but they can make us anxious. What does an anxious church look like, what do we look like when we are caught up by anxiety? Instead of not being ‘of the world’ as we’re commanded, we’re to be in the world but not of it, instead of that we become in and of the world, we are no longer holy, we are not different and above all we cease to be resilient. We lose our capacity to deal with challenge, we only do it by defensiveness.” A drowning church?
God’s Perspective: We should, therefore, refocus our minds on God’s word to seek understanding and I would suggest that that brief extract from Psalm 15 that we used as the header verses demands our attention. David’s question is who may get close to God (believers) and what follows are the requirements for such a person. First it is someone whose walk through life is above criticism (there’s a challenge!). Second, they are someone whose life conforms to God’s will (which at the very least means seeking after it). Third, it is someone who speaks the truth from the depth of their heart, i.e. total honesty. Fourth they do not say false things about others. Fifth they do nothing to harm those near to them. Sixth they cast nothing untrue, false slurs or harming to others. Now line those things up with what we see around us today and ask two pertinent questions: Do these things match me? Can I support any leader of any kind for whom these things are largely absent? And let’s have no dividing personal and public behaviour, words and attitudes!!! Unrighteousness in one half of life mean an unrighteous person, full stop!
Here are again are those verses, check them out: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others.”