Thursday, 18 August 2011

'Out of the heart...'

A recurring comment on the recent riots was the surprise that apparently 'respectable' young people were taking part - university students, 'decent' middle-class people.

What it all goes to show is that whether you wear a suit or a hoodie makes no difference because that's only what is on the outside. Jesus said, "Out of the heart come...evil thoughts...theft..." etc. It's the heart that drives a person's actions, not their clothes or level of wealth. Like in 'Lord of the Flies' the riots show what happens when the human heart has no constraints of law or social order. Very soon there is anarchy and violence.

It's very easy to pontificate from the sidelines of relatively quiet Coulsdon, but perhaps we have to ask searching questions of ourselves. What is it in the heart that can lead to such lawlessness? Is it the same thing that leads respectable MPs (and others, I'm sure) to fiddle their expenses? "Everyone does it," is the cry. So what's the difference between stealing from the tax payer and stealing trainers from a shop? The riots resulted in criminal damage to property - and there is no excuse for that - but the MPs expenses scandal resulted in damage to the reputation of parliament. Which is easier to rebuild? I tend to think that buildings are easier than reputations.

The economic liberalism of the 1980s, encouraged by the government of the time, lies, I believe, behind many of the problems we see today. 25 or 30 years ago we were encouraged to get what we could, to abandon restraint, to get rich quick: sell off national assets, remove limitations. And many people did get very rich and could retire at 55. But now their children generation, brought up with those same values, face a much more bleak economic outlook. Naturally, they share their parents' values but their aspirations to material wealth are blocked. Who is to blame? I suppose we all are to some extent, by active involvement or collusion.

What is the answer? In today's psalm at Morning Prayer the psalmist writes: 'Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart'. I also have a verse on my window ledge that says, 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.' The good news is that God can change hearts. In Ezekiel it says that he can exchange hearts of flesh for hearts of stone. In Jeremiah God says he will put his Spirit within us so we will know the right thing to do without being told. "Search me, O God, and know my heart..." says the psalmist.

It is claimed by J John, the evangelist, that there are over 32 million laws in existence; but have they improved on the 10 Commandments? Perhaps this is the time to return to the good life that God set out so simply. We've seen recently what happens when there are no boundaries of law and order. It's not a good life. God's good life has simple boundaries that we forget at our peril.

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