“In God’ hands or ours?”
So: was the result of the EU Referendum down to the collective intelligence or stupidity of the British population (according to your point of view)? Or was it in fact God’s will for our nation? That’s a tricky question to answer, and it throws up the classic theological issues of divine determination and human freedom.
On the one hand, God quite clearly gives us humans the freedom to do exactly as we please, for good or for ill. We have been created with brains which God expects us to use. Of course, our wisdom is limited and our ability to predict the future is uncertain; but ultimately we have to make our choices in life and then live with them. Sometimes the decisions which seemed to be unimportant later turn out to be highly significant; equally, some options which promised a golden future lead to disaster. We reap the consequences of our own choices and we can rarely turn back the clock.
One can see examples of this throughout history. Many Russians saw the Bolshevik Revolution as a route to equality and freedom and must have been appalled at the tyrannical Soviet state which ensued. To take another example, many people voted for Hitler as he seemed to offer a glorious new start to the bruised and battered Germany which the Versailles Treaty had left in its wake; even if they knew about his anti-Semitic rants, they must have brushed them aside as meaningless vituperation, . More recently, the whole sorry saga of Iraq, Libya and Syria demonstrates what happens when politicians make decisions which they honestly think are for the best, in situations which they do not fully understand.
So we have to live with our decisions, imperfect though they may be. But Christians also celebrate and worship a God who, they believe, is bigger than any of the nations of the world and has a master-plan for the entire universe.
Certainly the Bible’s Old Testament traces the history of a people who were led, taught, blessed and often chastised by God. And this saga continues with the Church in the New Testament, reaching its climax in the book of Revelation where angels triumphantly proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, who will reign for ever in a renewed creation. This is the very essence of the Christian hope.
But it is here that we run into our difficulties. For the Old Testament repeatedly talks about God fighting on behalf of his people, or of him raising up rulers – some of them pagan! – to carry out his inscrutable purposes. There is a sense in which the most powerful kings and nations of the ancient world are puppets in his hands; a particularly striking passage in Ezekiel’s prophecy says that Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, considers himself to be “a lion among the nations” but is in fact no more than a “dragon” thrashing in the sea and ensnared in the net which God has thrown over him. As the book of Proverbs states, “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established”. So is our freedom in fact no more than an illusion? Are we nothing more than pawns on the divine chessboard?
I must be honest: I strongly hoped that Britain would remain in the European Union and I was shocked at the strength of the “Leave” vote. At the very least our choice has triggered a period of national uncertainty with the Prime Minister’s resignation, volatile financial markets and the promise of complex negotiations all taking centre stage. We have been told that our decision could lead to a disastrous recession, and there is also the real possibility of Britain becoming an even more divided country than it is at present, with a further referendum leading to Scottish independence. The crosses we marked on our ballot papers have unleashed forces which are, to a degree, beyond our control; we shall have to wait and see what happens, and that will not be easy.
And it is here, perhaps, that our belief in God’s overarching sovereignty can encourage us. I am not in any sense suggesting that Britain is a nation specially favoured by God; that would be ridiculous. Nor am I saying that we are any more or less Christian than the other countries which make up Europe. But I do want to declare that we are part of God’s wider world; I also want to affirm that God fundamentally wants the human race to thrive and flourish. Yes, we have made our decision, and some of us think that it was the wrong one. Now is the time for all of us, whatever our political views may be, to put our trust in God, the Almighty and Eternal Lord.
Andrew Kleissner has been the Minister of Christ Church (United Reformed & Baptist), Tacket Street, Ipswich since 2005. Prior to that he was a missionary in West Africa and then the Minister of two churches in London. He served for some years as the Baptist representative on “Churches Together in England’s” Theology Group and has recently become the Eastern Baptist Association’s Ecumenical Officer for Suffolk. Andrew is married to Moira, a retired teacher who – among other things! – volunteers for Christian Aid, Dance East and “Emmaus”.
To view Andrews other Blogs click here
(The views expressed here are those of the author, not of Heart 4 Ipswich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate. We welcome your thoughts upon the ideas expressed here, posted as comments below)