Monthly Letter – October 2020

Dear Friends,

There’s nothing new under the sun.

So the ‘Teacher’ tells us anyway (Eccl.1.9). Maybe we do well to listen to the guy. Maybe we do well to stop kidding ourselves that Covid-19 is something entirely new and without comparable precedent.

Pandemics themselves aren’t new. It may well be that we ourselves have never had to face such things before. And it may well be that, outwardly at least, how the thing’s being managed and addressed across the globe is largely without parallel. At least in terms of the detail.

But in general terms, in terms of the general nature of how the threat of the virus has been addressed – well, there’s nothing new at all.

Fear has clearly been the weapon of choice: and there’s nothing new in that.

The rationale is easy to grasp. The more fearful you are the more careful you are. You don’t need a PhD in logic to figure that out. The more you’re afraid of burglars in your area, the more careful you’ll be to keep your doors locked and check that the windows are shut.

And the more fearful you are as well, of course, the readier you are both to seek and to heed the guidance, advice and instructions which those in the know will give. Afraid of bowel cancer? You’ll be all the more careful to hear and obey what your local dietician has to say. Afraid of root canal treatment (and who isn’t)? You’ll do what your dentist tells you to do.

You know how this works. Fear makes a people attentive. And fear makes a people submissive: we do what we’re told.

It’s fear that’s been instilled throughout society today. Deliberately? As part of political strategy? As the only way whereby we would take on board a set of draconian measures which even old Draco himself might have thought just a shade extreme? A calculated strategy of centralized control. One way or another fear has certainly been cultured through society.

If you know how to go about it, of course, it’s not too hard to do. Notch up on the television screens each night the number of deaths there have been. Every one a painful, personal grief. Of course. We’ve most of us known bereavement; we know how sore it can be. And none of us want to die. So put up on our television screens each night the number of deaths there have been: tell the heart-rending stories of selected individuals. Touch the heart. Make it real. Show the extent. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands.

Night after night after night. Relentlessly. Until the message is drummed firmly into our minds. A terrible serial killer is on the loose. The figures are there to prove it. Statistics don’t lie.

No. But they do need a bit of context; and they can be highly selective. No one parades across the television screens, for instance, the number of daily abortions here in the UK. No one notches up how many little unborn babes have died each day, aborted in the womb, casualties not of a virus but of a philosophy – a larger figure by far, by the way. Those numbers don’t appear on our screens. That might generate an element of guilt; but it’s fear not guilt which, it’s been decided, will serve the cause of battling Covid-19 best.

As the tag line from the film ‘The Fly’ demands, ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’ And without so much as a second thought we’ve dutifully obeyed. We’re good little UK citizens. Fear has become endemic in society.

But there are problems.

Problem number one is this. That which was meant to be the servant of society in tackling this pandemic, has grown to be our master: this great strategic enterprise of cultivating fear, pursued within the corridors of power (and I don’t just mean the government) with what at best must be interpreted as uninformed naivety, has bred a little monster.

Or does that state the case too strongly? In the laboratories of the intellect, set up by those who are the movers and the shakers of society, a great societal experiment is taking place. What might a life without God be like?

Of course, as I said at the start, there’s nothing new under the sun. This is just the garden of Eden experimentation dressed up in contemporary garb. The essence of the experiment is this – God gets removed, and we get to be god in His place. Cultivating fear is an integral part of the formula. Always. History bears that out.

But what was bred to be no more than a noisy ‘terrier’, whose bark would be enough to give us all a fright and keep us cowering in obedience – that scary little terrier has grown to be an increasingly sinister tyrant. The fear which was bred as an instrument of political control, that fear is now out of control: indeed in no small measure it’s now taken control.

Here’s what I mean. First of all, in the face of the fear that has been so carefully cultured, the hands of our leaders are tied: action has now to be taken (and the fear dictates it be seen to be being taken) which is commensurate with that fear, as definite and as drastic as the caution the fear has required. Fear has taken control. The terrier’s turned into a tyrant.

Then, too, in the face of that fear, the fabric of society has been latently undermined. That fear has birthed suspicion through society. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ has subtly assumed a rather more sinister shade of meaning: neighbours now are bidden to report on one another: brotherly love has been subtly replaced with the dictates of Big Brother. The terrier turns out to be a tyrant.

Nor is it just the fabric of society which starts to fray in the face of that fear: for in the face of such fear, the very lifeblood of society grows cold. Fear is a cold and chilling thing: we all know that from experience – the shivers down the spine sort of thing, which can leave you rooted to the spot.

Fear leaves us frozen, and it spawns a certain paralysis. There are places we will not frequent, pastimes we will not pursue, people we will not go near. Absenting ourselves from the regular gathered worship of the people of God may well (in some cases) be just such a sobering expression of this fear-induced paralysis.

What was bred as a scary terrier grows into a sinister tyrant. The lapdog’s taken over the whole laboratory. Please note – I’m not for a moment propounding conspiracy theories. No. I’m pointing up the problems that there are in fear being the weapon of choice. Because the first of those problems – that what was meant to be the servant of society has become instead its master – is in truth but the inevitable corollary of a second, far more significant problem.

The tag-line from the film ‘The Fly’ runs counter to a very basic tenet of the Word. ‘Be not afraid’ is the line the Lord Himself dictates. A command. The most repeated command in the whole of the Bible. Be not afraid.

Not because there aren’t some pretty scary things out there for us to be afraid of: not because we shut our eyes to in-your-face realities: not because we learn techniques which aid us to anaesthetize our fears.

No. Be not afraid, insists the Lord, for I am with you. That’s invariably the reason we’re given. Whatever there is which occasions our fear, the Lord Himself is greater. Well able to shield and protect. Well able and pleased to uphold and sustain.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And that reverence for God, that rejoicing in all that He is, that resting in all that He’s promised His people in Christ – that ‘fear’ dispels all other fear. As the hymn we sometimes sing well puts it –

‘Fear Him, you saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear; His service shall be your delight, your needs shall be His care.’

That’s the root of the problem with the great societal experiment. Remove the Lord and you remove the fear of the Lord. But remove the fear of the Lord .. and all of the other fears come flooding in. All of them. A great tsunami of fears. The fear of death included. After all, is there not a serial killer on the loose, whose name is Covid-19?

But what did Jesus exhort His disciples (and in case we’ve forgotten, that’s us)? “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Covid-19 can only kill the body. Do not be afraid of what this virus at its worst may do: be afraid, instead, of what the Lord in His wrath will do.

Of course, though, that’s the very perspective which the movers and shakers today have wanted to bury. But they simply haven’t reckoned with the burgeoning floodtide of fear which is thereby released.

And with that floodtide of fear there comes as well, fatigue. I think that’s what we’re also seeing these days. Fear doesn’t simply paralyse. It exhausts: it drains us of our strength and our resilience. Its offspring is fatigue.

That’s part of the reason our Sunday nights have been centred around God’s promise through Isaiah. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”

For fatigue is a dangerous state for a people to reach, as I think we’re seeing today. It results in either lethargy or anarchy, neither of which will do us any good.

A weariness is starting to settle in upon the psyche of the nation. In the case of some they find themselves down-hearted, discouraged, dispirited, resigned. Adjusting to the state-imposed ‘new normal’: accepting of the status quo: cow-towing to perspectives which are rooted in a mantra that has lost its roots in Christ. Lethargy is a legacy of this fear-induced fatigue.

But anarchy is its legacy as well. There’s a sort of fatigue which is resentful more than resigned. Tired men and women, who have grown to resent the never-ending, ever-changing catalogue of rules and regulations which intrude upon the rhythms of their daily lives, while failing to halt, it would seem, the spread of the killer they fear.

Such resentment grows into rebellion. It becomes a free-for-all. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland –each of them able to make up their own set of rules (which change by the week, if not, sometimes, by the day). And the Westminster government ready, it seems, to break international law as it, in its turn, makes up its own set of rules.

It all starts to look like the end of the book of Judges. No longer even the rule of six. The rule of law reduced to the rule of one. “Everyone did as they saw fit.”

Anarchy. When you have no king (beyond yourself). When the fear of the Lord is gone.

Will our land wake up to the sheer crass folly of this garden of Eden experiment, before it is too late? Will our land learn again that it’s ever by faith, not by fear, that a people shall truly live? That the fear of the Lord, not the fruit of the lab, is the beginning of any true wisdom.

And maybe it starts with ourselves. Will we wake up to the gravity of the real disease which has so afflicted our nation? Will we be as watchmen in and for our day and generation, as those of whom the Lord Himself declares – “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”

May God grant us grace to rise to the challenge of these days, to be bold in the face of the fear which prevails, to be tirelessly strong in the face of the growing fatigue, to be wise in discerning the times and, like the men of Issachar of old, in knowing now what to do.

Yours in the service of Christ,

Jeremy Middleton