N T Wright’s Lecture at Durham Cathedral
Where is God in the power politics of the world? God is present, calling rulers and authorities to account, and acting through them to anticipate the day when his justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth, when the earth shall be filled with his glory as the waters cover the sea.
Within this framework, what can we say, what should we say, about God and the War on Terror? I hope you can see this at least clearly: that it isn’t a case of saying either that God is absent, at best looking on from a great distance, or that God is present, simply fighting on one side or the other. If we are to think Christianly – and I recognise that for many of you here tonight that may be an open question, but you should at least see how a Christian might be supposed to think – then we must think according to the pattern of Jesus Christ.
And that means that the first place we should look for God in the War on Terror would be in the smouldering ruins of the Twin Towers, in the tears of the widows and children on that terrible day five years ago, and then in the ruins of Baghdad and Basra, the shattered homes and lives of the tens of thousands who have through no fault of their own been in the wrong place at the wrong time as the angry superpower, like a rogue elephant teased by a little dog, has gone on the rampage stamping on everything that moves in the hope of killing the dog by killing everything within reach.
The presence of God within the world at a time of war must be calibrated according to what Paul says in Romans 8, that the Spirit groans within God’s people as they groan with the pain of the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the sign and the assurance that the God who made the world still loves the world and, in that love, groans and grieves: and when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod, then they find that self-same aching deep within the heart of God.
But, though that is the first word in answer to tonight’s question, it is not the last. If my analysis is anything like correct, we should also see God in the calling to account of those who abuse power, in the reminding of the rulers and authorities that they have a task of justice and mercy, anticipating God’s eventual rule and implementing the achievement of Jesus. To that extent, the calling to account that has taken place in America this week, blunt instrument though such elections are, must be reckoned somewhere in the scale.
Likewise, the establishment of some kind at least of authority in Baghdad is better than chaos, even though I firmly believe that the death penalty is always a partial denial at least of God’s restorative justice. And insofar as the last five years have constituted a wake-up call to sleepy western Christians to think urgently about issues of global justice and governance, we can see God, I believe, in that new stirring, warning us that we have a task and that we haven’t been doing it too well.
…In such work, and in such prayer, God is present to call both the War on Terror, and the Terror itself, to account. But, second, there is a task which involves us all, at every level. Terrorism arises principally and obviously because individuals and groups sense themselves to be alienated from ordinary process, unable by any imaginable means to effect changes for which they long, locally or globally. The roots of present terrorist movements have been much studied, and they are more complex than politicians and the media often imply. But the way to make sure that the causes of terror are diminished and if possible eliminated altogether is not – of course it is not! – to drop bombs on potential terrorists until they get the point. That is to fight one kind of terror with another, which of course not only keeps terror in circulation but tends to stir up more.
The way to eliminate the causes of terror is to seize every opportunity to work together, to talk together, to discover what makes people tick within worldviews quite unlike our own, and in short – as has been said within Iraq, but without much visible effect – to win hearts and minds not necessarily to a Christian worldview, certainly not to a modern secular western worldview, but to a shared worldview of common humanity, incorporating what the great majority of human beings want, genuine justice and genuine peace. Part of the task of the church in this generation is, I believe, to encourage all those who are working in this way, and to remind our politicians and our media that this is the direction we all ought to be travelling.
Where then is God in the War on Terror? Grieving and groaning within the pain and horror of his battered but still beautiful world. Stirring in the hearts of human beings the desire for a more credible structure of global justice and mercy. Burning into the imagination of human beings a hope that peace and reconciliation might eventually win out over suspicion and hatred, that the world may be put to rights and that we may anticipate that in the present time.
My friends, we in our generation – and especially those of you in your teens and twenties – face a new world, full of possibilities for great good and great ill. I have argued this evening that the Christian gospel, revealing the mysterious God we discover in Jesus and the Spirit, offers a robust and rigorous framework for discerning where God is at work in the midst of the dangers and opportunities that confront us.
All of us in our different callings are summoned to this task; some of you, perhaps, to make it your life’s work. Jesus is Lord. The Spirit is powerful. God is doing a new thing. Let’s get out there and join in.