Learning the wrong lessons from a crisis

Don’t you long for the days of good old political knock about and debate? December, the General Election and Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation as Labour leader seems so far away now. For us political anoraks, this week should have been a big occasion. We would be looking forward to the special conference revealing a new leader of the opposition, the drama around the appointment of a new shadow cabinet and the debate about policies and direction.

As I explained at the time, I personally found myself in the difficult position of not being able to vote for any of the major parties at the General Election.[1] So, I have been looking forward to see if the main opposition would put forward a better, more credible alternative.

Yet we are in a sad, anti-climax situation. The Prime Minister is in intensive care, nobody has much interest in normal politics at the moment, the country is in lockdown and we ended up watching a live news broadcast on Saturday which basically involved the news anchors watching the same website screen we could access, waiting the announcement.

In the middle of that, one thing stood out to me.  As you might expect, Jeremy Corbyn sought to defend his legacy as he left office. Here we are and there is huge pressure on the NHS, the national economy is at risk and the Government has had to step in, extending welfare, borrowing billions and in effect nationalising large swathes of business including the railways. Corbyn’s conclusion is that the situation justifies the policies he put forward at the General Election.

Now, you don’t need to be an all out opponent of Corbynism to see the problem with that. Supposing an authoritarian anti-democratic party had been standing at the last election. Imagine that their policies included

  • Telling MPs to go home and getting rid of Parliament so that the Prime Minister could rule directly.
  • Imposing house arrest for all and rationing the amount of daily exercise and contact with each other allowed
  • Bringing in rationing and queuing at the shops
  • Increasing police powers and implementing road blocks around the country.

Well, I wouldn’t expect such a party to do well in a General Election, though these might be the very measures suggested in response to terrorism  They are also pretty much close to the experience of people living in dictatorships around the world. However, imagine our distaste, indeed the ridicule we would rightly respond with if such a party were to claim now that Coronavirus justified their policy platform. If we cannot tell the difference between temporary emergency policies and what we expect for normal life then we are in real trouble.

Dare I mention at this point the real dangers of learning the wrong lessons. Is it a bit close to the bone in this context to mention anti-Semitism. When people learn the wrong lessons, usually they learn to single out specific people and groups of people to scape-goat, to be subject to vitriol and to worse. Nazi Germany sought to learn lessons from defeat in the First World War and the horrific depression of the 1930s. They traced correlation and turned it into cause finding a group to blame. They blamed the Jews for all their woes and so the holocaust came. The easiest lesson to learn and the worst is that it is so easy to blame someone else.

Now, for the purpose of #faithroots, I am less interested in the rights and wrongs of Corbynism. I have my own views as I’m sure you do too. Rather, this site is about helping us to think through how  what we believe affects how we live. There are lessons for each of us.

First of all, the Bible consistently points to examples of people reading the situation wrong and drawing the wrong conclusions. Whether it is people after the flood finding a place to build a city and thinking that the circumstances call for everyone to stay in the city and build a tower for their name, the Israelites waiting many days before Moses came down the mountain and believing they were justified in making Golden Calves to worship or men witnessing God at work through the apostles and seeing an opportunity to acquire special powers for themselves and for profit.

When we try to interpret and act on circumstances, we often get it badly wrong. At its worst, this leads to idolatry. However, even when we are making decisions that are basically good or at least okay, if we get our reasoning wrong, that can be so unhelpful in life. If my reasoning and motivation for setting out on a course of action is wrong then I am unlikely to see the matter through to conclusion when trials and testing come.

So, how does our faith help us to live right and wisely here?  Well let me suggest two things in conclusion

  1. The Bible points us to the God of truth. Therefore, we should seek to be holy and like him (godly) by having the same commitment to truth. It is not enough simply to come up with the right   answers. We need to show integrity in our decision making.
  2. We need to be cautious and careful in our interpretation of circumstances. We need Special Revelation to help us understand and interpret General Revelation. In a crisis it is so tempting to throw away the clear and consistent revelation that we have in Scripture and look for novel, comforting answers. Yet the rock solid dependable foundation of the God’s Word, the Bible is exactly what we need for such a time as this.

[1] Though I want to go on the record and say that personally I have been generally impressed with politicians of al political allegiances in their response to COVID-19. Of course there have been mistakes and misjudgements. They are fallible humans but they are doing their best to respond to a complex and heart breaking situation.

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