Rioting, racism and toppling statues are embarrassing examples of the worst. But the present pandemic has also caused people to reach beyond themselves to find the real strength that sustains and endures.
Pau wrote these words in the context of a growing city church that had become rather over-engaged with spiritual gifts. These were spiritual qualities of the kind that can be demonstrated. Prophetic words of knowledge or the wisdom for acting on them, the gift of special faith, an unlearned inspired prayer language — these are all God-given and evident, highly useful and valuable at a specific time. But they are situational and for the moment, rather than the “will last forever” quality he flags up.
A record of attitudes we have learned to reform
At times of pressure we can respond within ourselves, in an emotionally driven way. The anger over police brutality is real enough and any Christian would have deep misgivings about the source of Edward Colston’s philanthropy. His statue is part of Bristol’s history, and records his using wealth for the benefit of the city of Bristol. It also stands as a record of attitudes we have learned to reform and reasons we now deplore the practices of Colston’s time..
The angry actions of crowds against this and other statues, like the Baden-Powell statue in Bournemouth looking out to Brownsea Island where the Scout movement started, looks not so much like a demonstration against racism as a desire to remove history — rather than learn from it. That looks less like protest, and more like people finding an avenue for taking out their frustrations.
Look to the eternal strengths of faith, hope and love
Paul says, look to the eternal strengths of faith, hope and love. Far from being abstract, each of these describes an indispensable aspect of our relationship with God.
Faith believes who God is, almighty and majestic — and the epitome of goodness. So to lament, and even protest about, injustice makes little sense without a perspective of what God’s kingdom order looks like, which will be based on how He is Himself. And then the effective protest might be to God in His goodness, recognising that He is the One who sees and acts, although we need to be willing to be directed as part of the answer to the prayer, e.g. through reforming politics.
Hope is close to trust in the relationship because it is the sense of a confident expectation based on God’s nature, how He has acted in the past and what He has said for all time. This may also focus into a ‘now’ word as He speaks to us today. Hope is more than an aspiration, it is a sense of assurance that God, who we know, will come through in the right way and the best timing.
Love transforms… into a joyful response to the immense and unconditional love of God
Love is what defines the essential character of the relationship. Love is what transforms a sense of solemn religious obedience and obligation to God — the poverty, chastity and obedience of medieval Christianity – into a joyful response to the immense and unconditional love of God. This comes through a heart change, not intellectual understanding, and it happens when we exercise faith to believe who Jesus is and what He has done for us, with hope’s confident expectation that He will count us in His gift of salvation. This invites the Holy Spirit to change our heart and rekindle it, repairing the connection with God’s care and love we call fellowship that Adam carelessly broke right at the beginning times.
Responding to frustration by reaching higher, into God’s goodness, is responding to Him as He has created us to do, rather than the response of how we have become, selfish and independent – and angry. A noisy protest and token damage changes nothing, and highlights history rather than changing it.
Reaching into God is finding the power that brings real change, both for us and for our broken world.