by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool
So last week I saw this editorial from the “Scientific American”. [The New Science of Sex and Gender – Scientific American](https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-new-science-of-sex-and-gender/). It is not itself a piece of science, but I was moved on reading it to tweet this: “The real world is complex, and we find out more about it each moment. However it is, Christians believe God made it”
And as I thought more about it I found myself thinking about fear and love, and the true God and the real world. And this is what I thought:
Our confidence is in God, whom we believe to be the true God. When Elisha’s servant was intimidated by the armies of Aram, the prophet was calm: “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” (2Kings 6:16) The writer of 1 John shared the same confidence, “for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
This true God, the God revealed in Christ, the God who is Christlike and in whom there is no un-Christlikeness at all, this true God made and loves the world. The world God made and loves is the real world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
The real world is loved by God, saved and not condemned, real as it is. And the way the world is becomes clearer as we seek to understand it better. It seems to me, then, that the Christian approach to the real world should be open, calm, loving, free from any sense of threat or fear. The surprises of science, the shocks of culture, the mysteries and realities of pain, suffering, sickness, evil – all these are seen and gently held within the still-greater mysteries of creation, incarnation and redemption.
But we must know that this calm and open spirit is not the way Christians are usually perceived by those around us. On the contrary we as a people are seen as defensive, jealous of our rights, nostalgic for the time when we were important, resistant to change, ready to attack any insight that surprises our existing worldview, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees were when the true God came among them in the real world, in the person of a carpenter’s son, scandalously human.
We are seen always to be fighting, and often we are. Some of us want to diminish God’s truth by approximating God’s call to the call of the leader of the nation, as the self-styled “German Christians” did in the 1930s and as so many self-styled “evangelicals” seem to be doing in the US today. Others of us want to turn from the world’s reality to a diminished little place sparsely peopled by God and God’s chosen, complacently counter-cultural, disdainful of so much around, as many have done through the ages and as the so-called “Benedict Option” asks us to do today.
And if we are Anglicans we must know that the conversations within our Church too, and within our Communion, are so rarely marked by the pure and peaceable wisdom that the Bible commends (James 3:17). Instead we too fight the culture wars, to the gleeful entertainment of the world and the despair of those who seek God in our lives.
And yet it seems to me that one of the geniuses of Anglicanism is that in our messy and foolish via-media way we have the tools to work together to turn away from these mistakes.
We have the via-media capacity to trust God to have made the world well, even if we are surprised by the discoveries of science and the realities of experience; even if the world is not the way they thought it was in Victorian times, or in the Middle Ages, or in the time of the Bible.
We have the via-media capacity to trust the Bible to have pointed the way as the way of love, even if in the time of the Bible, or in the Middle Ages, or in Victorian times, or today, we did and do not love each other as we should.
We have the via-media capacity for self-awareness, even in the midst of all the shrill self-assertions that pass for conversation in our Church.
Because perfection still rests in God, and we are called to be perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5:48), and we are taught that the way to move towards that perfection is in love. The writer of 1 John wanted us to know that it is perfect love that casts out all fear (1Jn 4:18). The writer did not say that it is perfect strength that casts out fear, nor that it is perfect faith, nor perfect truth. All these things are lovely, but they rest in God and in God’s perfection and they are God’s gifts. For us the via-media road is the road of love, the road to perfect love, as John of the Cross understood when he wrote that “in the evening of our lives we shall be examined in love”.
A real world that is complex and surprising and in many ways mysterious, and a call of the true God to walk in love in the real world God loves, and the gift of the via media, the Middle Way, the way of open, trusting, fearless loving. These are the poles of our discipleship and the road on which we can walk. And as I have been on this road since I was newly born, so I will continue on this road until I die, this messy road of the Middle Way, my road and the road of my people.
Anyway, that’s what I thought. What do you think?
At a time when the Church is faced with a challenge as to its relevance in today’s world, these words of the Bishop of Liverpool need to be heard by all of us who claim the power of the Gospel to make a difference.
Bishop Paul’s exhortation to actually love the world – rather than judge the people in it – might be a better way of following out the call of Jesus in the Gospel than the too often perceived ‘holier-than-thou’ approach to the world that is evidenced.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand