I have been through some scary moments in my life, but no more so, than last night whilst finishing a course in Peckham South London. The venue of my training was slap bang in the middle of the ensuing violence and rioting.
As fear took over I sought safe refuge upstairs behind locked doors with many other trainees and the course leader.
From the large window we could see huge numbers of youths numbering in their hundreds provoking police, smashing through windows on business premises, pillaging, looting and vandalising.
As a calm ensued at around 8pm many of us fled through a fire exit and ran to the local station. All around me was the destruction and the debris from the evening's carnage. In particular large amounts of fruit stolen from a local grocers created a real mess everywhere.
I thanked God for safe travel to the station and hoped to walk through the safe streets of Ilford to my home where I wanted to bunker away from the danger in the south and north of London.
My shock at arriving to an Ilford filled with Police, a Town centre with prohibited access and news of a rampage on Ilford Lane caused further anxiety. I had to walk a dangerous journey along a much wider route and was fearing for my life all the way.
Outside the Police station I saw a massive number of police and their vehicles and set my mind to walking with a more speedy pace, fearing being a place normally associated with safety.
Reaching home was a cathartic experience and a moment of great joy.
Today the crises continues as I returned to my training course (11:30), Police milled all over the streets of Peckham. They were trying to restore local confidence and peace. To my chagrin, I discovered that my course had been cancelled, yet I had not been informed.
Suddenly a rumour spread that youths were gathering in Camberwell and were to visit Peckham for another day of pillage and plunder. I saw a large gathering of Police and people in suits and decided to investigate, and came across David Milliband. He decided to visit the shocked community of Peckham to share his concern and reassure them that action would be taken to prevent a repeat occurrence.
I shouted a call to David and queried what punitive action would be taken on the youths apprehended during the recent skirmishes and major street attacks in London. His response was non-committal as he replied;
"Our first priority is to restore peace."
I did not gain any reassurance or confidence form this reply so I asked him whether the government would be willing to deploy the military to support the Police in the face of the scale and number of these looting activities. Mr Milliband replied;
"We are increasing the number of Police on the streets and and belive this is the best way to approach the situation."
As a Redbridge resident I raised concern about the attacks on Ilford Lane last night and various BP petrol stations. Mr Miliband confirmed that Policing would be increased in all targetted areas.
I returned to my Office around 14:30 and discovered that my staff had gone home and that all shops on Green Lane had been closed down. I called the office manager on her mobile and discovered that a local business owner had received a call from the Police informing him to shut his business and to advise others to do the same.
I called the local Police to enquire into the treat level and risk of attack and was shocked to discover the call had been a hoax and that I an other businesses had suffered a significant loss in productivity and sales, as a consequence of a unsolicited call.
Here is just one practical outworking of the chaos and lawlessness manifested in these riots. But what are the roots? The Guardian and the BBC state or imply that it is government cuts and the resulting alienation. Whilst it is true that economically straitened times will often bring forth violence and extremism (see the late 20's and early 30's for an example), and it may very well be the case that such alienation is associated with much greater disparity in wealth across society, this diagnosis does not go anywhere deep enough. Blinded by their commitment to naturalism, they mistake the symptom for the root cause. For a start, I will be far from alone in saying that such conditions might be a partial explanation - but certainly not an excuse - but it cannot be anything like the whole story. Are the looters the worst off, the most deprived? I doubt it. Gang led riots, anarchist organised ('if you see a fed - shoot') warfare and looting, black on white racist attacks, forcing people to strip on the streets, and stealing off wounded victims in the street? Looting, 8 year olds running off with bottles of wine and the like - this is not ultimately the result of inequality but lawlessness, something the bible warns us about in the last days. There will be plenty of people worse affected who aren't looting and burning on the streets. Like the people whose shops are burning, family livelihoods attacked, who have born the brunt of rising prices, and the like. As some people have already said today, why should they pay taxes, while half the looters are doubtless going to collect the unemployment / incapacity cheques on Thursday and have drunk / drugged their way through it by Friday?
So let's look at this disparity between the rich and poor. Capitalism run amock, critics will doubtless say. And yet, haven't all levels of society, including much of those at the lower end, been in the grip of a love of money, easy credit, and envy of those who seem to live an easy life? The quick easy way of looting a shop, walking out with a flat-screen TV or whatever, and feeling like you are 'sticking it into the system'. People's purpose is pleasure and gain. Someone has once said that the bible reads like today's newspaper headlines. Does this passage from the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3 ring any bells?
'But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.....'
Why is materialism running amock in our society? Because we have neglected our source. Our source is God our heavenly Father through his son Jesus Christ. It is the only thing that will save our society from wrack and ruin. In the days of the French revolution, Britain was on the verge of following suit, but it was the revival brought about through the work of Wesley and Whitfield and later the 2nd Great awakening and the Salvation Army that reversed the slide to anarchy, degredation, revolution and rebellion. Those sink estates where the roots of the riots are supposed to be? I will guarantee that you will find an overwhelming attitude of godlessness and fatherlessness - broken families, with men moving in and out, no stability for young men and women to lean on, so they rely on their own, themselves, their peers, becoming feral gangs, hanging about on the streets, hating and being hated, adhering to bloody codes of honour which are the only thing that keeps together these jerry-rigged families of fellows. Fatherlessness fosters futility, leaves a hole, a gap, and when there are no father-figures to fill the gap, and no realisation or awareness of the heavenly Father, all that is left is pleasure and sensuality, possessions, status and greed. Compare this nihilistic utilitarianism of materialism that darkens our days with the fullness, the light and joy and life of the following, also from Paul (Ephesians 3.14 on) :
'For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.'
Notice how it starts - kneeling before the Father, from whom all fatherhood on earth flows. Kneeling - humble respect for authority, not cold, distant authority, but that of the loving heavenly Father, and that all fatherhood flows from this. This is the prescription that will heal our land, our families and our society. As the prophet Malachi said, right at the very end of the Old Testament, also talking about the last days (ch 4) :
'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays...... on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. '
The same pattern - there is respect for law and authority, in this case God's law, the law of Moses. And the key to whether the land is destroyed or not is the restoration of the family. The law-keeping is not that of tyranny, of forced compliance, but the trusting obedience that comes from a healed heart, and fatherhood and family restored.
Go back to the 19th Century, and what was different, in those days of a similar great disparity in wealth? There were riots and lawlessness as the poor protested against injustice and inequality and tyrannical authority, but it was the movements of abolition, temperance, trade unionism, universal education and even feminism that turned the tide, and these all stemmed at grass roots from fervent evangelical faith. Capitalism was often tempered by the humanitarianism of wealthy businessmen like the Cadbury's, a humanitarianism rooted in their religious faith and bible - believing, God-fearing conscience. Days of rest off, education for the children, fair pay. In comparison I can hardly see their new owners, Kraft foods, engaging in more than token public relations philanthropy these days.
Throwing money at disaffected youth and 'sink estates' will in itself do no good, and maybe great harm, if it is done in such a way as to feed the sense of entitlement without responsibility. It will be more money drained away, with yet more money on repairing the damage done by yet more riots. The real roots need to be addressed, and ultimately it is not the government that can address the real causes, although their policies can help or hinder. It is us, the church, God's chosen agent in society, which carries both the ability and the responsibility under God to do something about this. Yes, we have street pastors and all the rest, but thus far they haven't stopped the riots.
Someone once said that in spiritual matters, when there is a 'spirit' in the land, in society, we must come against it fiercely with the opposite spirit. Just being a bit different, an ameliorated version of the spirit of the age, a sub-culture will not do it. We need to be radically different, a challenge, an affront, a counter-culture, outrageously opposite to the spirit of our age. In short we need to repent. We need to turn from individualistic, easy-going, me-centred spirituality, and from formal, fatherless religion, and return to the faith of the family of the Father. Yes, we also need to pray now for the riots to stop, for peace to be restored, and to call for a firm response against this lawlessness, but it will be an empty movement if we forget that firmness without fundamental change is futile - it leads to tyranny, and anarchy in reaction to tyranny, and so the cycle goes on. The centre cannot hold, unless.... The middle way that unites justice and order, freedom and peace, is the rule of the Great Father, his authority and his grace, his kingdom and his embrace, his law and his love.
The Fathers love made flesh in us is the only way to overcome the lawlessness of our land.
But there is something else, in our post-modern age. Truth. Along with warnings about lawlessness and selfishness in the last days, Paul and Jesus and the apostles warn of deception and suppression of the truth. Look at the link between lawlessness and suppression of the truth in the last days in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:
'.... Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, ....... For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; ...... And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.'
It is a delusion and a lie to believe that lawlessness can be overcome by materialistic means, and wickedness tries to say that this is the answer, and nothing else is needed. Actually, it is law with love, truth with trust, that is the answer. So along with the love of the Father, we must proclaim the truth of his word. Along with fatherlessness, the other root of the fruit we see in the sink estates, on our burning streets and in society more widely is a culture cut asunder and adrift from the truth and wisdom of God's word and law. Transformation will only happen soul by soul, as they come to saving knowledge and experience of the Father's love. The passage in 2 Thessalonians shows the way for transformation, in contrast to the lies and lawlessness of the last days :
'God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.'
And as the apostle Peter, the rock, said in closing the last letter before he was martyred for his faith :
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen
So, with all this in view, let us pray together :
Heavenly Father, we pray that we, as your children, may truly be your children in heart and mind, children who know the comfort of your Fatherhood in our lives, of being adopted into your family. Help us to truly be your children, by being transformed into your likeness, and mirroring your Fatherhood out into the world around us, to not be self-indulgent, and self-centred, but to proclaim by word, deed and attitude, the truth and glory of Your name, your character into the world, so that the hearts of the fathers are turned to their children, and those of the children to their fathers, so that family is restored, and your truth and love prevail in this land. We ask that we would be people dedicated to prayer and worship, not comfort and ease, to the glory of your Heavenly Kingdom, and not to greed, materialism and earthly success, to truth and faithfulness no matter the cost, not convenience and convention. We ask that we may be so changed as to be used by you to bring many people out of slavery to darkness and materialism and fatherlessness and into the glorious kingdom of your Son, whom you love, and through whom your love and embrace is made known to the world
We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord and in the power and enabling of your Holy Spirit