Our Prophetic Paradigm
In these febrile times we might well ask, ‘What place the Church?’ Often the Church appears as captured by cultural narratives as anyone else, but she is meant to operate in a different space, to have a different voice. We are called to a prophetic paradigm; by which I mean ‘Big-P Prophetic’: that is, calling all nations to the obedience of faith for the glory of God. This means we do have something to say about current events but need to do so from within our prophetic paradigm, and I would suggest that this paradigm needs to be framed by the reality of death and the promise of peace.
Over the past couple of weeks we have seen the daily death rate with covid in the UK equal what is the normal daily death rate in the UK. (Just think about that for a moment.) Last Tuesday, as we passed the symbolically powerful milestone of 100,000 covid related deaths, the Prime Minister said that it is, “hard to compute the sorrow contained in this grim statistic.” There is much we could say about this, but from within our prophetic paradigm the least we should say is (as Glen Scrivener has expressed it) that the pandemic is, God’s megaphone – waking people to the reality of death. In normal times death is not much spoken of. Now it is.
We need to be woken up – and this applies first to the Church (It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God - 1 Peter 4:17). Where we have compromised with the world, often becoming indistinguishable from it, we need to wake up. And it applies to the world, which so often carries on as if death is not real. The Church needs to proclaim that death, and judgment, are real – and serious.
But the Church is not just in the business of scaring people: there’s fear enough around as it is. Rather, we have the message of hope, and this is the other framing aspect of our prophetic paradigm: we know the One who is ‘himself our peace’ (Eph. 2:14).
We live in agitated times but in Christ we can know peace. We have a story to tell of the shalom for which we were created and in which we will dwell and of which we have a foretaste.
So this is our prophetic paradigm: to proclaim both that (yes) death is coming for you – there is judgment hanging over you; and that (yes!) in Christ we can be reconciled to God – peace is available.
In his inspirational book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes,
Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.
As the working paradigm for an agnostic medical doctor this is an admirable goal, but in the Church our prophetic paradigm takes us further. We get to invite people into a story that refashions the whole world and the possibilities not only for how we end our lives but for all eternity. That is the message we must proclaim.