At the turn of the year in 2016, the New Yorker magazine captured the mood of the times with the headline: ‘The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year’. Perhaps it has proved truer to the arc of our experiences than we might have hoped.
I write amid the uncertainty and loss of lockdown in 2020 and it occurs to me that we might be able to catch sight, through the smallest of windows, of an awakening in our national psyche.
Power and control
Our relative successes in the West mean we suffer an illusion not shared by all societies; that of power and control. This window dares us to face the reality of who we really are, and our limits.
Perhaps by the time of reading we have already shuttered the window and resumed our pretence to the contrary. Nevertheless, I am struck by this moment of recognition. I wonder if intrinsic to being human is ultimately a sense of powerlessness. Bereavement, loss and mental health struggles are the epidemics of our generation.
Is peace possible?
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.’ These are words that we sing at Christmas time. They’re taken from the gospel announcement of the birth of Jesus. We often sing them without a second thought, but ‘on earth, peace’? What would that even look like? Is there anything harder to achieve or more elusive?
Imagine a glass sphere that represents us at peace. Maybe we think of peace as the absence of conflict and struggle or maybe the presence of a stillness. The Bible envisages a lot more. Us as whole beings, at peace, at one with ourselves, internally at rest, living with purpose. Us as beings in community, at peace with one another, enjoying depth and breadth of true relationship. Us at peace with the created order – living in mutually sustaining harmony. Peace as wholeness, peace as a deep wellness, peace as connectedness.
And perhaps we might imagine a thread that runs through this sphere, by which it freely hangs, as defining our relationship with God, which sustains and gives life to the whole. The message of the Bible is that we who were created in the peace sustained by relationship with God, turned our backs on him and found ourselves freefalling to a shattered end.
Pieces of the puzzle
Is it possible that it is only in reconnecting with God that peace can be found? But we have disintegrated so far beyond our intended state, there is now even no connecting piece by which the thread can hang anymore. We are powerless to bridge the gap, but the claim of the Christian faith is that God himself has bridged the gap in the person of Christ.
Jesus came into the world, dealt with the root of our predicament: our moral shattered-ness. He paid the penalty for that moral failure in our place and in so doing took up and bore the shattered-ness of our suffering and ultimately defeated and overcame it. And now he offers us, if we should want it, a restored relationship. A reconciliation that brings wholeness and wellness amidst the trials and tribulations in life, and fullness of life with him after death.
I have used the imagery of a world in shattered pieces. I do not know if all that you are holding is intact. My own experience has been that the God who is big enough, powerful enough to hold together the wider story, is kind enough, willing enough to meet me in my own. Perhaps we have lived through the worst year. Perhaps there are more to come. May a greater awakening to the reality that we are not gods after all, bring us one step closer to the possibility of encountering Him who is.
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This article is taken from the latest edition of Reflect Magazine. You can click here to register to receive your free copy of the magazine, which includes articles by Michael Ramsden on leadership, Clare Williams on racial reconciliation in the church and Andy Moore on the ethics of AI.