“He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.” Psalm 146:6-8
I’ve been watching the moving story of Jane Seymour’s family history on the BBC’s new series of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’
**Plot Spoiler alert!**
She follows two great aunts on the Polish, Jewish side of her family tree. One great aunt, Jadwiga, stays in Warsaw and loses her husband, her son, her daughter, her society and her city, as the Nazis systematically destroy the Jews and the Slavs in an effort to create purity.
The other great aunt, Jadwiga’s sister, flees with her family to Paris, then to Marseilles and finally to Switzerland, staying behind at times sacrificially to work towards the welfare of fellow refugees. Finally in Switzerland this life’s work is seen as a contribution towards the rebuilding of nations, and it is what enables the family to live in freedom and stability.
It’s impossible to watch the show without another wave of disgust at the ghastliness of the Nazis treatment of human beings.
It was also impossible not to think of the heartbreaking flows of people out of the Middle East in this month, reaching Europe’s borders and receiving a very mixed reception in 2015. It was shocking to hear reports on Radio 4 this week of Bulgarian police abusing refugees by beating them, stealing their phones (and thus their only means of contact, and legal evidence of their status as people who have entered Europe at all). And that is just one news report in a seemingly endless escalation of grotesque treatments that people have visited on each other in the past few months in our world.
Remember when Assad’s treatment of his own Syrian people was shocking, when it was the worst thing on the news? Those headlines seem to have been trumped now so many times, that we can lose sensitivity to the increasing need.
What can we possibly make of this?
I do know that this is not an ‘act of God’ (a hideous phrase even when applied to earthquakes). It is people who have done this, who have chosen to treat others with rejection and hatred. And what am I doing?
From the sweet boy serving in our local coffee shop greeting customers with cheery words, to the PPI insurance salesman who left another message on my answerphone today, every single encounter we have with another human being leaves a legacy, however small. At best, and at worst, the legacy of individual choices can change nations. Free will is not to be taken lightly.
God does not hide away the principles by which he wants us to live in peace and security. In the days of the Israelites he set out rules and it was clear to all that they could not keep them in their own strength. Jesus showed us that a person can live in a divine way, but that God knows we are not pure and righteous by our own actions. Whereas the Nazis made other people die in order to let their nation be supposedly ‘pure’; Jesus showed true power and life by loving us so much to treat us lovingly even while we, mankind, killed him.
In these last few days, at David’s Tent festival, I have enjoyed glimpses of the great love that God has for us; as we have sung his praises, we have been able to realise that the best things we can say about him don’t even reflect his wonder. How extraordinary that he would care enough to lead us patiently in growing in stature as moral, loving, powerful human beings. How patient he is with us.
While singing to God about how good he is, and dwelling on his character, might seem like an incidental thing to do, it has had a profound effect on me. To soak in that atmosphere for a few days has shifted something. I am willing to accept that he is the one who is perfect, not me. The amazing Sean Feucht talked about the wonderful truth that however much we praise God, when we meet him face to face we will discover that really is that lovely, and more; we will look back and think, not that we wasted that time worshipping, but that yes, we really got it, and he was worthy of it all.
How to reconcile these two worlds? How can we spend four days in an English field, singing songs of praise to God, while people at the borders of Europe are desperately trying to escape the horrors of war?
John MacArthur has written that “worship is all that we are, reacting rightly to all that He is” (The Ultimate Priority, Moody Press). It’s no wonder that as we worship we see him more clearly, but we also see ourselves with new clarity. As we focus for example on how he rescues us daily, we may lose some of our innate arrogance at how we have so cleverly set up our comfortable lives. As we expose ourselves to the reality of how deeply flawed humans are, we can marvel that God not only loves us at all, but patiently trains us in the art of loving each other.