Every so often there are certain events that get everyone talking. Colleagues in the office express their own opinions and discuss the viewpoints offered by politicians and social commentators that are making the headlines. We may have a chance to chip in and as 1 Peter 3.15-16 says it may be a time to be "...prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience...."
The situation that Peter is writing about is one where Christians are being persecuted, challenged and questioned about why they are different. Christians are not being blamed for the riots and looting but nevertheless our attitudes and reactions should stand out as very different from those of the world around us. With many people asking, "What is the answer to the riots?" the Gospel of Jesus Christ is utterly relevant - we should expect opportunities and be prepared.
While the knee jerk reactions have included better parenting, better policing and better hip-hop (to name a few!) the Christian's knee jerk reaction should be to turn to the word of God and prayer for explanations and solutions. There we find ultimate analysis and answers. There we see where to turn with our fears, where to look for justice, how to understand why people behave the way they do and see how transformation is achieved.
But what can we say?
To begin with perhaps we shouldn't actually say too much but listen hard to what our colleagues are saying. Trying to find out what they think and what solutions they suggest is a good starting point. Asking good questions helps us understand their beliefs and their hopes and fears. This will be key to loving them and helping them see why the Gospel is the only real and lasting solution. (With some of course there may even be practical ways we can support people directly).
Here are a few thoughts on potential questions and a few potential Gospel lines to go down to get us thinking:
Fear and safety
Potential Questions:What makes you feel safe/unsafe? Do you think it is possible to be totally protected?
Potential Gospel things to say: The police, our possessions, homes, wealth, and the government can only ever provide limited protection. The riots remind us of the fragility of our security. The Lord is the only safe place to turn for ultimate protection. Psalm 121
Jesus' warning in Matthew 6:19-24 that possessions in this life are not safe from looters is quite apt and his encouragement to store up treasure in heaven very wise. Our hope security and treasure should not be placed in what we own or find here on earth but in eternity with our heavenly father. The riots have been a great reminder how temporary everything on earth is.
Questions: Why do you want justice? Why do we get angry? Where does our sense of right and wrong come from, if not from God? Where do you look to for justice?
Answers: We have a sense of right and wrong. Looters may not have been spotted on the various CCTV cameras, or maybe won't receive an adequate punishment. Romans 2:5 points to a day of judgement that lies beyond the courts. A day when God's right judgement will be revealed, a day when everyone will get exactly what they deserve. The day when Jesus returns to wrap up history, a day where every one of us will be held accountable for what we have done and there will be no injustice.
Behaviour, greed and materialism
Questions: What makes the greed of the rioters worse than ours? Can we say our hearts are any different?
Answers: Maybe we weren't involved in the riots, but that doesn't mean we don't have the same materialistic heart as those who were looting shops. What is our heart attitude when we aren't being watched? Do we try and get away with things in a similar way when we can. Remember how in recent months we've seen greed and selfishness and sin in our bankers, politicians, journalists, the police, etc. This is a problem that isn't just in a few, but in all of us. The problem of the heart (Mark 7.21-22) goes beyond superficial explanations of education, gangsta culture, lack of discipline, etc. The riots are one example of a world that has turned against it's God - Romans 1.28-32.
Questions: What solutions do you think will work? Which people would you trust to make things better?
Answers: At times like these we naturally look for ‘saviours' and solutions. One end of the spectrum of solutions says we need to get really tough. We need to wheel in the water cannons, impose curfews, have armed soldiers on the street, increase the number and power of the police force, bring back the cane, send the youth to Afghanistan or bring more discipline and morality into education. The other end of the spectrum says we need to give youngsters more opportunities to create a life for themselves. They say we need to create more jobs for young people, keep youth clubs open, allow them to get involved in communities more and give them hope and vision for the future. Both sets of solutions only cover up the deeper problem of people's hearts. Jesus says everyone has a heart problem, a problem that is so significant that it ruins every part of society. But before we despair Hebrews 8:10-12 gives us great hope. It shows how lives can be changed, not through social engineering but by the power of the gospel. Eg Zacchaeus and the Apostle Paul. And ultimately only through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection is there the hope of a new earth where sin is removed and people put each other first and live fulfilled lives as they were intended.