You might be aware that almost two months ago, my country held a vote on whether or not to leave the European Union, and in the end (a few) more people voted to leave it. Let’s look past the fact that ‘Brexit’ might be one of the most cringeworthy names I’ve ever heard, right up there with ‘Ultraspank‘ (as much as I enjoy their music). Let’s also look past the fact that I was initially one of those hardcore ‘Remain’ voters who thought the world was going to end as a result of the ‘Leave’ side winning… actually, let’s not. I’d like to talk about the way some people, myself included, acted in response to the vote – talking about how much a victory/travesty this was, with what seemed like expert knowledge being shared.
Until earlier this year, I honestly couldn’t say I knew much about the EU. Sure, I was aware that it existed and that Britain was part of it, but I had no idea about the implications of leaving it or staying in it. And to an extent, that’s still true today. Why, then, did I seem to have become an expert on it over the course of just a few weeks? And to what extent were my views on it based on real-life evidence instead of just my own ideas? I guess the ‘A vs. B’ narrative that was pushed by the media and the campaigners appealed to the natural human desire to come out on top, and we became prepared to do anything to get our side to win, even if that meant demonising the other side and the people who were on it.
So what, you might be asking, has this got to do with Christianity? Well, it has made me think about how we can sometimes feel like we know everything about the faith, only to find out it’s because we’ve been focusing on one aspect of it while leaving everything else out. I believe this is what happened to me and many other people around the time of the referendum – we were so fixated on one possible consequence of leaving/remaining, we failed to consider the counter-arguments that inspired other people to vote differently.
It’s so easy to view Christianity as some ‘sunshine and rainbows’ affair, when in reality things are far more messy. This is why it’s so hard for some people to comprehend loss or other forms of hardship, particularly if they’re being told that “God’s plan is greater than ours” or something else along those lines. We teach our kids to follow the example set by Jesus, ignoring the fact that He said more about hell and judgement than any other individual recorded in the Bible – and was violently executed for some of the things He said. On the other side of the coin, I have seen many people taking issue with the more gnarly things that the Bible describes (particularly in the Old Testament), often accusing us Christians of skimming over those parts. Thing is, those parts play their role in the larger story, but they aren’t ultimately the focus, and we badly miss the point if we think they are.
It always makes me sad when I hear people describing God as a cold, tyrannical Father who can’t wait to punish them for their shortcomings, because that’s not the full story at all. Yes, God is holy, and has to punish sin, but according to Christian teaching, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is enough to cover that cost. At the other extreme, we have to be careful not to misunderstand what God’s ‘love’ actually means. It’s entirely possible to act out of control and sin as much as we like, in the belief that God will simply forgive us again, forgetting that He does have moral expectations from His children.
I’m sure there are other examples I could use to make this point, but by now it’s probably clear that we need to take in all sides of theology in order to make sense of it. That said, not every side serves the same purpose, and we might find ourselves in danger if we emphasise some more than others. And of course, our incomplete human wisdom only goes so far, but when it comes to understanding this kind of thing, if I had to choose between my own ideas and those put forward by the scholars who have studied it for many years, I know which I’d go for.