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serving jesus christ the king

It's About More Than Just Restrictions

So he’s finally gone. For days the condemnation grew louder and louder and yet it looked like Matt Hancock would cling on to his job as a lightning rod for criticism that would otherwise come Boris Johnson’s way. Yet in spite of the Prime Minister’s apparent support, the UK Health Secretary tendered his resignation on Saturday night.

No doubt you’ve read the story and have probably even seen the picture. There he is, one of the architects of the UK’s coronavirus restrictions, passionately kissing one of his aides in the apparent secrecy of his Whitehall office.

Thus far, the outrage has focused on the breach of public health regulations. By definition, Mr Hancock and his mistress are from two different households meaning that contact such as this was not permitted when the photo was taken. Countless citizens have rightly queried whether it is one rule for politicians and one for the rest of us.

Yet, listen to some and you would think that this is simply a matter of breaching a temporary public health restriction. In reality it goes far, far further. The most pertinent facts are that Mr Hancock has been married for 15 years and the woman with whom he has been having an affair has been married for 13. Both have three children. Hancock’s wife is reported to have had no idea that the affair was taking place; her husband only informed her when he learned that the affair was about to be exposed in the tabloid press. He has since reportedly left his wife in order to move in with his mistress.

It’s a truly ghastly sequence of events and our hearts should go out to the innocent victims of Hancock and Coladangelo’s abhorrent actions. Yet, we must be clear that the breach of Covid regulations is at most a peripheral aspect of this affair. What they have done would still be wrong even if there was no pandemic.

When it comes to electing leaders, character matters. Of course ability and policy are both vital, but a man or woman’s character cannot be taken out of the equation. To put it bluntly, if a man’s own wife is unable to trust him, how can the country be expected to do the same? Whether it is Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or Bill Clinton, when it comes to holding public office, the betrayal of one’s own spouse ought to be a disqualifying offence. To write such affairs off as “a private matter” is to misunderstand what makes a suitable leader.

Secondly, it ought to be recognised that ANY act of adultery is by definition a matter of public note. A wedding is a public event where a man and woman take public vows before God and before witnesses to remain faithful to one another. Marriage brings unmatched blessings to those who enter into it, but with these blessings come solemn responsibilities. It appears that Matt Hancock was not willing to keep his word and meet those responsibilities. It is right that he has gone.

Watch out for Tin-pot gods

And…breathe! Like just about every reader, I’m relieved that the weekend is over. No more late night screeching caused by rubber on road. No more rickety exhausts with their noxious fumes and obnoxious rackets. No more boy racers putting their lives and others’ lives on the line.

There has been no shortage of comment on the scenes in Letterkenny over the weekend. The shameful anti-social behaviour, the reckless antics on the road and the mountains of rubbish left for others to clear up all paint an appalling picture. Sadly it’s not the first time and it is unlikely to be the last.

So how should we view those who came to our county, had a good time, then left their mess behind? Let me suggest two perspectives: pity and soul-searching.

Firstly, we should feel pity. Many of those I have spoken with are angry at what they’ve witnessed and rightly so. Yet there is a temptation to dehumanise those who behaved in this way. The fact is, these (mostly young) people are men and women created in the image of God. Like every single one of us, they have been designed for meaning and satisfaction and they are looking for true happiness where they think they are most likely to find it.

Yet they’re looking in the wrong place. They are looking to tin-pot gods; to rust buckets on wheels. That should make us weep. They won’t find what they’re looking for on TikTok. They won’t find it in their big weekend out. They certainly won’t find it in their noisy exhausts or their reckless speed - if anything they are more likely to lose it all. We should feel pity at such misdirection.

Yet, we shouldn’t stop there. We could rant and rave about the state of the current generation or we could shower them with condescending pity, but both approaches say more about us than about anyone else. Rather, the events of last weekend ought to prompt some major soul-searching.

On the surface, many readers are far removed from those who inflicted themselves on Letterkenny last weekend. Yet, ultimately, we’re all looking for the same thing. Each and every one of us is looking for satisfaction where we most expect to find it. The end result for some is a pristine home; for others it is a litter strewn street. Some pour their cash into rusty old cars; others pour it into their children’s college fund. Yes, some people’s gods are more respectable than others, but they will end up disappointing every bit as much.

That’s something the one true God warns us about in his word. In Psalm 115, the writer ridicules the false gods of his day. They have mouths but cannot speak and ears but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel and feet but cannot walk. Then the warning: “those who make them will be like them.”

Whether we were in the thick of it last weekend or merely tutting from afar, we need to watch out for tin-pot gods.

The Cost

We see the athlete atop the podium clutching their gold medal, a broad smile covering their face, eyes sparkling. Unless we personally know them (or others like them), we don’t see the pain-etched grimaces, the rain-sodden training, the iron-willed discipline of diet and denial, the countless hours perfecting technique.

All we see is the sweetness at the end. The cost is hidden from us.

So it is with an old familiar song—one often sung at funerals or whose opening line adorns idyllic pastural scenes. The 23rd Psalm, or ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’, has brought comfort and encouragement to many over the 3000 years since it was written. Its lines have been quoted in songs from artists as diverse as Pink Floyd, Megadeth, U2 and Coolio amongst others.

Yet the sweet comfort of Psalm 23 comes at a great cost. And nowhere is that cost set out more clearly than in the preceding Psalm which starts off with the poignant question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Psalm 22 is an astonishing prophetic portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth written 1000 years beforehand, even hundreds of years before the Persians and then the Romans developed crucifixion. It is accurate right down even to the detail of the gambling for his garment.

I was reading both psalms this morning and something struck me which I had never noticed before. Virtually every line of comfort in Psalm 23 is paralleled by a line of cost in Psalm 22.

Consider the truths which are possible and the cost of them:

  • He is always with me [23:4], because He was forsaken [22:1]
  • He is with me in the valley of death [23:4], because He Himself entered it alone [22:1]
  • I am provided for in the midst of my enemies [23:5] because He was abandoned to his enemies [22:12,13]
  • My cup overflows [23:5] because His cup was empty and he cried “I thirst” [22:15]
  • I have everything I need [23:1] because He had everything taken from him [22:18]
  • I lie down in green pastures [23:2] because He was laid in the dust of death [22:15]
  • My soul is restored [23:3] because His soul was given over to the sword of judgment [22:20]
  • I will fear no evil [23:4] because He is the one who has been surrounded rather than me [22:16]
  • Goodness and mercy will pursue me closely all the days of my life [23:6] because He took my faraway-ness and my forsakenness fell on him [22:1,11]
  • I can say ‘forever’ [23:6] because He said ‘forsaken’ [22:1]

Psalm 23 is the answer to the Son of God’s haunting question captured in Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The answer is: so you and I could say, “The Lord is my Shepherd”.

However, these sweet truths are not automatic. We need to turn to the saviour of Psalm 22 before we get the blessings of Psalm 23. We need to acknowledge that we were far off and deserved to be forsaken forever, and ask him to pay the cost to rescue us and to provide us with all of this rich comfort.

Next time you find yourself singing Psalm 23—consider the cost.