Church Matters, July 2015

TheRevAt the time of writing the news is just breaking of the further bail out for Greece from the European Union. The situation in Greece seems somewhat unbelievable, with people unable to withdraw their cash from banks, and banks themselves mostly remaining closed.

My generation has never been through a real slump or depression, where poverty kicked in to the extent that a whole nation is affected. Understandably there is anger amongst the Greek population – they voted in a new government and leader with a “fresh” approach to austerity, promising much hope, only to find it’s not that easy. To me it’s very unclear how the situation will develop and be resolved, but the impact on people’s everyday life must be huge.

Back here in the UK we also face some hard times ahead. After the surprising result of the general election (not a political statement on my part, just an observation) we now have the setting of a Budget that aims to pull the nation into economic stability while also dealing with a burgeoning benefits system. The saving of £12bn from benefits payments has received mixed reactions – from those who would see it as addressing the problems of people “cheating” the system through to those who have real concerns for people unwittingly caught in the benefits/poverty trap. Just looking objectively at the proposals, losing child tax credit when you earn £10,000 per annum is quite a different matter from those on £50,000. Estimates have also been made on the potential (and I emphasise potential) impact of benefits cuts for people in Cornwall: there are around 40,000 people who could be adversely affected by the changes; there are also some 16,000 on disability benefit, and 10,000 of these could see a reduction in the level of benefits they receive. The latter situation has a knock on effect to those who provide disability services – with reduced benefit payments the work opportunities will be reduced too.

There are a couple of Biblical principles which can come into play here. The first is what Jesus called one of the two most important aspects of the Christian faith – to love our neighbours as ourselves. This does give a balanced approach to looking out for one another – it doesn’t ask that we become a “doormat” for everyone else to walk over, but we are asked to look around and help others on an equal basis. This in itself will draw in another Christian principle, to learn to lay aside “self” (in Biblical terms – die to self), to sacrificially reduce our “wants” in order that we can give to others. The recent Foodbank collections at supermarkets is a good example of this, and I know that many people in our localities gave food items sacrificially in order to keep Foodbanks stocked up. When people and whole families find their benefits suddenly stopped – and despite apparent safeguards this does happen – Foodbank parcels are a literal lifeline. I suspect that once the benefit changes take hold we will see more use of Foodbanks, and beyond that there may be a need to simply take a look around our neighbourhoods to see where we can help our neighbours.

The second Biblical principle is that of wisdom, and the type of wisdom that only God can provide. As I’ve previously written the Houses of Parliament have an inscription on a main walkway that comes from Psalm 127 – Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders build in vain. This basically says that if you ignore God you can expect calamity, and I think this applies to governments, councils and individuals. Human wisdom does its best, but ultimately there is a need to take heed of what only God can give. The words from another Psalm – “Be still, and know that I am God” – also speak directly to any who are worried by what the future holds. It’s an invitation to lay all the problems before God in sincere prayer, and then trust that solutions will come. Many Christians have experienced just that.

So, as the economic vice tightens its grip, will we have the courage to lay aside self and reach out to neighbours in need? Will we also have the courage to ask God for his wisdom in directing what we do? Courageous hearts are needed to restore hope in nations and people’s lives.

Tony Stephens