The Parish of Burchetts Green

This month Rev Keith writes about

The importance of remembering

Justice without God?

On the other hand, recent attempts to create justice without reference to God, have been disastrous, as the experience of avowedly atheistic states in China, Soviet Russia, and North Korea, to name but three, illustrates. Once any sense of objective morality derived from God is abandoned, the survival of the fittest with its brutal oppression of the weak by the strong will inevitably rise to the surface. The merciless law of the jungle does not require you to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you as Jesus does.

Two in tandem

‘Justice, kindness and walking humbly with God’. The Judaeo-Christian ethics derived from the revelation of God in the Bible have underpinned our society for generations. They’ve often been sidelined and not always applied in the way we would have wished, but until now the underpinning has remained. The biblical bias to the poor; Jesus’ example of servant leadership and the command to love others have stayed in the common consciousness.

But this underpinning is increasingly under threat, especially by those who wish to detach ethics from God. History shows that you cannot have one without the other. Religious formalism is empty posturing unless due regard is paid to the justice and kindness God requires. Try justice and kindness without God, and the resulting rudderless morality will disappear under a relativistic sea of competing interests in which the ruthless winner takes all.

A month of remembering

November is a month of remembering. It begins with All Saints Day, November 4, when we remember all God’s people throughout the centuries. Later the same day, at our special service ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed,’ we give thanks for those close to us who have died and light candles in their memory. On the following Sunday, November 11, Remembrance Sunday, we honour those who have died in the service of our country. And, on November 25, we celebrate Christ the King, who gave his life that we might live, and whose teaching informs so much that is good in our lives. Please join us as we remember together.  

We know better?

It was Henry Ford who coined the phrase ‘History is bunk’. Increasingly our society agrees and attributes less and less value to the wisdom of the past. Values and customs built up over the centuries are routinely trashed. We think we know better. Whether we do know better remains to be seen, but I doubt it. We forget the past at our peril. As Winston Churchill put it: ‘Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.’

Forgetting God

It’s not just long-held social and political norms that are rapidly being abandoned. Even more pronounced is the clamour to forget God. We are now a post-Christian society in the sense that Christian worldview is no longer primary in political affairs. Hardly a week goes by without news of yet another attempt to abolish a Christian voice from public life. Does this matter? The Bibles teaches that it does.

A lesson from ancient Israel

Much of the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament describes a cycle of war, of disaster and of the people crying out to God. He then rescues them and restores peace, only for the people to quickly forget God again. Society declines, and, sooner rather than later, disaster strikes.

Much of the prophetic books in the Old Testament are a commentary on this cycle. God, through the prophets, reminds them of what has happened in the past, and warns them about the present. Often that warning is a complaint that they have forgotten about God and reminding them of the consequences that will follow from that, a warning that our society desperately needs to hear. But alongside this, God warns them that doing the religious bit is useless without a God-given moral, ethical and social life. The prophet Micah is typical: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’

God without justice?

Justice, kindness and walking humbly with God belong together. What happens when you try and split these apart? On the one hand God, through the prophet Amos, condemned ancient Israel for its religious formalism without justice: ‘I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs…But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Without justice, God abandons his people to their fate.