(The Nationalist, 23 September 2005)
‘It’s a funny old world’, Margaret Thatcher said on a famous occasion. It hardly needs saying that we have made it a complicated world. All sorts of things that used to be simple have now become convoluted.
Some time ago I went to have an ear syringed. That used to be a simple affair, just a matter of pouring warm water into the ear, perhaps with something added to dissolve wax. Out came the wax – job done, and home you went. Not any more. I was presented with a list of ear infections and complications and asked if I had ever suffered from any of them. Most of them I had never heard of, so it was hard to answer the question.
I asked if the reason for the questions was to keep the doctor on the right side of the law in case I took it into my head to bring an action against him. The nurse didn’t say yes or no – potential complications there, too – but I was able to put two and two together. It was like those sponge neck-supports you occasionally see people wearing. A medical friend told me they were there more to protect the hospital from a compensation claim than the patient from injury.
One of the things that makes it hard for people today to accept the Christian faith is that it isn’t complicated. On the contrary, its essentials are simple, so much so that a child can understand them: love God and love your neighbour. Love God by keeping the commandments. Love your neighbour. Who is my neighbour? Everyone. But if something is simple, we feel there can’t be very much to it, and maybe we then dismiss it as simplistic.
A second reason why we find Christianity hard to accept is because it seems too good to be true. A loving God. Forgiveness and reconciliation. Heaven. Those sound like wishful thinking, foolish naïveté. And we’re too smart to be fooled by any of that.
We live in a world where people are cynical, tired, and disbelieving of anything that sounds too good. Many people live lives of quiet desperation. What a pity for people meant to be alive with hope! Instead, especially in the Western world, we see lots of anger and aggression, of destructiveness and cynicism, all signs of despair.
The Gospel is simple, but not easy; on the contrary, it’s demanding. Doing God’s will often means going against your own will, and we’d rather do our own. Following God means doing his will, not just talking about it.
For those in a hurry: ‘Prayer liberates us from egoism’. (Madeleine Delbrêl)