Mirror to our culture
One of Crete’s own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. (Titus 1:12-13a, NIV)
Are there such things as national characteristics, common features of a particular culture? The Apostle Paul’s answer appears to be yes.
He’s writing to his younger colleague Titus, who’s ministering in Crete. This is going to be tough work, because of the Cretan national character. Note that Paul is careful to avoid any thought of groundless xenophobia: he makes his point by quoting one of Crete’s own poets!
Of course our own multi-cultural world is complex, and we must be very careful not to over-generalise. But there do seem to be particular national characteristics. This summer we’ve seen very different attitudes across different European countries, for instance, to financial management - and to care for refugees.
Reading this verse did make me wonder: what might Paul say about the UK? It’s hard to spot our own cultural peculiarities, of course, because we are in the thick of them, but the example of the Cretan poet encourages me to try. Three suggestions come to mind:
1. UK society is presumptuous. We assume all must be fine between us and God; many think that when a person dies, they must automatically go to “a better place”. We assume it’s God’s job to forgive us and provide for us. We live in a society that has grown used to welfare and feels entitled. And so we presume on God. In earlier episodes in our history, as in other cultures, there has been a much greater background sense of “the fear of the Lord”. Thus people see no need of the gospel of Christ.
2. UK society is suspicious. We have sadly grown used to mistrusting the many claims we are bombarded with. Our politicians spin the truth (the “sexed-up” Iraq war dossier), junk emails try to lure us into scams, companies find hidden ways to charge us, and even trusted institutions such as schools and churches have been found to contain child abusers. (See Mark Meynell’s new book A Wilderness of Mirrors for more on this) This may make people suspicious of our real intentions when we want them to hear about Jesus.
3. UK society is anti-authority. Perhaps because we have begun to mistrust authority, but also because it is ingrained in our nature, we resist the claims of any authority over us - in government, in family life, or from God. The buzz word is “autonomy”. I am to be free to decide everything in my life: not just my job and lifestyle, but my sexuality, my gender, even (in today’s Parliamentary debate) when to end my life. Everything is included in “my right to choose”. A Christian speaking on any subject advocating submission to another is likely to have a rough ride. And so, of course, UK society does not want to have this Jesus rule over us.
But these aspects of our culture don’t mean people cannot become Christians. On the contrary, the Bible has answers to each. Against our presumptuous society, we hear the words of the prophets (such as we’re hearing on Sunday mornings), giving us the real position between a holy God and us. And to our suspicious, anti-authority society, Jesus speaks these words: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) When we come to Jesus as Saviour and Lord, we come to one who gave everything for us, and whom we can trust absolutely.
Come and hear more about His claims the next three Sunday evenings at 5pm.
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