Praying…Through Gritted Teeth image

Praying…Through Gritted Teeth

Leading people is difficult.

I sit on a school governing board and see the huge pressure bearing down on the leadership team at this time. Whatever decisions are made in response to the pandemic there are parents who complain. How much greater must be the pressures on those who are making the decisions at a national level? Who would want to be Prime Minister at a time like this?

Being a pastor has its complexities too. I want to encourage and empathise with those who are fearful at this time. I have genuine concerns for those in my congregation with health issues that make them vulnerable to the virus and want to see them properly protected. And I have to reconcile this with my own wish that the British government had been more Swedish in its approach to the pandemic, and listened more to the likes of Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan than to certain other advisors.

So I didn’t much enjoy Boris Johnson’s address to the nation last night.

I wish that rather than saying the disease has “caused havoc to economies everywhere” he had said that it is the response to the disease that has caused havoc.

When he said, “We can see what is happening in France and Spain”, I wish he had also referenced what is happening in Sweden and Germany.

I disagree that the new approach is “robust but proportionate.” Robust, yes. Proportionate, not so much.

I agree that, “The tragic reality of having covid is that your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell.” But no one is suggesting “we should simply lock up the elderly and the vulnerable – with all the suffering that would entail.” And I wish he had acknowledged that whole sections of our society are in effect already locked up. My daughter starts at university in the North East next week and will have no face to face lectures and is not allowed to meet anyone outside the house she is living in. How is that fair when the under-20s are at effectively zero risk from the virus? How is that not being locked up?

I think the threat that, “we will enforce those rules with tougher penalties and fines of up to £10,000. We will put more police out on the streets and use the army to backfill if necessary”, is rather scarier than the virus itself. Any government that employs such disproportionately severe penalties has lost its moral authority and is relying more on fear and coercion to govern than the goodwill of the people.

I wish he had acknowledged how making the health care system all about covid has meant that many people have not received treatment for other conditions. I wish he’d said that there have been many deaths as a consequence of this missed treatment, rather than repeating the mantra that, “If we let this virus get out of control now, it would mean that our NHS had no space – once again – to deal with cancer patients and millions of other non-covid medical needs.”

I wish he wasn’t flying kites for, “mass testing so efficient that people will be able to be tested in minutes so they can do more of the things they love”, when we know the tests currently being used produce a very significant number of false positive results: so that there are plenty of people who don’t have the virus receiving a positive test and then having to self-isolate or face a fine of £10,000.

I wish he had reined in his tendency for hyperbole. “Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour.” Spanish flu? Black death? WWII?

So no, I didn’t think much of the PMs speech.

And yet the word of God instructs me to pray for those in authority. More than that, it tells me to do this with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 2:1). It’s easy to pray for, and give thanks for, people in the abstract. It’s also easy to do it for those with whom we are in agreement and who we like. It is much harder when it is not abstract, and when we don’t like what the authorities are doing. But the command doesn’t change!

I think this is one of the biggest discipleship challenges for Christians in the West. We are so culturally conditioned to assume that our personal opinions and desires should be paramount and to share in the general societal disdain for political leaders. We seem to think it acceptable to ridicule – hate even – those with whom we disagree. But the word of God demands something different of us.

So we must pray – and not even through gritted teeth, but thankfully. We might not find it easy. I know I don’t. But we must do it. We do it because ‘godliness & holiness’ are a great prize, as is ‘pleasing God our Saviour’ (1 Tim. 2:2-3). In a few years, decades or centuries the current actions of our governments will seem to matter very little, but our response to them now will have consequences for eternity.

Let’s pray.

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