My dear Friends
I’m writing this shortly before the screening of the final episode of BBC1’s Sunday night thriller Bodyguard. In case there’s anyone out there who’s not watching it, it’s a politico-crime drama which put us in the middle of a terrorist bomb threat within the first minute and is a rich mix of explosive action, high-tech espionage, sexual tension, power struggles between the police and security services, double-crossing, hidden motives, and huge unresolved personal issues. It’s truly gripping stuff. I won’t say any more about the specifics, because in these days of catch-up TV I could be guilty of ‘spoiling’ well after the broadcast itself.
Most of us love the tension and uncertainty of this kind of show, and at a somewhat less frenetic pace the unfolding of the story in, say, Downton Abbey, Poldark, or Vanity Fair. We desperately want to know what happens and eagerly await the next episode, yet we’re sorry when the series is finally over. Meanwhile we’re happy, indeed delighted, to live with the uncertainty because we know that at the appointed time (10.15 pm on 23 September in the case of Bodyguard) the truth will be known, the mystery explained, and the tensions resolved one way or another. That box can, so to speak, be ticked, and we look forward to the next exciting offering from the film makers.
But of course it’s all fiction, however much we get drawn into the situation as we watch. The neatly-scheduled termination doesn’t apply to the fears and uncertainties that we experience in real life. We can’t tell when, if ever, the problems surrounding our health, our relationships, or our careers will be resolved, whether Brexit will ever be ‘done and dusted’, whether the increasing hostility between the world’s most powerful nations could plunge us into major conflict, or whether one day the natural world really will be choked to death by plastic if climate change hasn’t killed it off first.
Uncertainty is a prevailing, under-the-surface feeling of our culture (it probably always has been). And in today’s world we know how terrifyingly fast things can change. How do we live with uncertainty?
And what does Christianity have to offer in a world of unknowns, fuelled by anxiety about both the present and the future?
Faith may not be able to offer black and white, watertight answers to every personal, professional, national, or global question. But was that ever really our expectation? Should it be?
What God offers us in Jesus Christ is hope (check out the ‘grace and hope’ featured in our church logo). The Bible uses the word ‘hope’ in the sense of a sure and certain prospect whose fulfilment we await, supremely God’s plan ‘through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven’ (Colossians 1.20). Sounds good to me! Some days that hope feels ‘sure and certain’, other days it might seem to be the last bit of rope to which we cling.
Faith is not about visible proof. It involves wrestling and questioning, waiting in simple confidence for God’s plan to unfold, even though meanwhile we have to get along without knowing all the details and timings.
There is no shame in this – we see it in the lives of people throughout the Bible, not least Abraham, whose story we are following in our sermons at the moment. Faith means trusting the character of God and the truth of his word – even as uncertainty swirls around us.
Your sincere friend and Vicar,