Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Jesus tackles the evil in our hearts

A FEW years ago I started on a rather half-hearted way to investigate my family’s history. 

I knew that a couple of generations back they were farmers in Suffolk and because of the unusual spelling of our surname it wasn’t hard to trace them through census data. 

I quickly discovered something I had never known: I had a great uncle who was killed at Ypres in 1915.  He even had the same Christian name as my father.  My grandfather must have named his son after the big brother he had lost.

 I called up my father to ask him about it: the story was completely new to him.  He asked his sisters: they knew nothing about it. 

I can only imagine that my great-uncle’s death had been so distressing to my grandfather that he had never spoken of it.  And yet, in the name he gave to his son, he had a daily reminder of the brother he had lost.

As the distance between us and the great conflicts of the 20th century grows, and as those conflicts pass from remembered lived experience into the history books, the question of how we remember becomes more, not less, pressing. 

My grandfather took the story of his brother with him to the grave and yet he left in my father’s name a clue which, in this age of internet research, enabled me to recover the memory of my great-uncle. 

But there are other things that are much more difficult to recover and to fully understand. 

These conflicts are already being filed under the category of “bad things that happened a long time ago”. 

Yet the Europe of the first half of the 20th century was as prosperous and well-
educated as any society in history up to that point, intoxicated with new technologies and the growth and progress that they promised. 

We hear a lot of talk of “learning the lessons of history” but this all too often means little more than mining history for data which supports our preconceived opinions rather than a serious and humble reflection on how apparently civilised societies came to such hideous conflicts.

Original sin is one of those Christian doctrines which seems to be rather out of fashion, although it is one for which there would seem to be no shortage of evidence. 

Simply put, while we are capable of very great good, we have an inherent swerve towards evil which it is beyond human power to wholly overcome. 

Technology, economic growth and the blueprints of political ideologies do not alter the fundamentals of human nature. 

And what follows is that the battle between good and evil takes place not primarily in the conflicts between nations, nor even primarily in the arguments between political parties, but within each individual human heart.

And it is here that the Church makes a distinctive claim.  In our reflection on the Bible, in our celebration of Holy Communion and in our fellowship with one another, we remember week by week the one who gave his life for our sake. 

And in this remembering, we believe that Jesus is powerfully present to save us and help us, pushing back that bitterly contested front line between good and evil that runs through every human heart.

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