WHAT JEREMIAH MIGHT SAY IF HE WERE NICK ROBINSON
Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth
It is becoming common currency that three great scandals have afflicted British public life in the new century: politicians’ expenses; media phone hacking; reckless banking. Each is expressive of a form of greed, which means those who would stand in judgment should exercise precaution by looking in the mirror. Nevertheless, the prophecy of Jeremiah (9:23, above) reaches across the eras to ring in our ears today. Those who use wisdom to govern, those who have power in the media, those who both earn and work round lots of money are faced with the particular temptation to trust in what has been given to them rather than in the one who gave it to them. The deceptive and heady feelings of power which ensue can lead to a loss of a sense of contingency - a vital awareness of our true place in the world and the allegiance we all owe to Christ.
A sense that ordinary rules do not apply to us when we reach this place leads us selectively to throw off restraint. ‘I can fiddle accounts / hack phones / trade irresponsibly’ becomes a product of the subtle idol we shape for ourselves out of the power we claim. While there are serious and sometimes criminal acts to address in these three specific scandals, our response as a public is tainted with hypocrisy. Few people could claim to be beyond reproach over their stewardship of wealth or their handling of news. Our culture has been scarred in this generation by an uncritical admiration of money and a prurient desire for gossip and so these specific scandals are the manifestation of a wider problem which we are far from addressing with spiritual responsibility.
Jeremiah continues: let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord: I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord (9:24)
Our calling is to glory in our relationship with God, not the gifts and power he gives us. In this way we become immersed in his life, drenching our lives with a new perspective. God’s unrivalled power is voluntarily constrained by his character: he must act in love, justice and righteousness for this is who he is. This informs our use of power as we become imitators of God. Personal discipline through the Holy Spirit and corporate responsibility through law are needed to contain the abuses which idolatry inspires.
Money and news are means to an end among those who follow Christ: they resource the work of the Kingdom and should at all times be used kindly to weave and not tear the delicate fabric of human society. Yet until we get a firmer grip on human contingency in the presence of God in our common life, we are likely to see more public scandals in which we see our own reflection painfully described.
When Jeremiah spoke of human wisdom, power and wealth, he could not have dreamed how spectacular and alluring they would look in our generation. The temptations they incubate have exponentially more power to harm now when nourished by an ageless human vanity.
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