They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Recently we have seen that image of the United States President standing outside St John’s Church holding a Bible. It happened a few days after the death of George Floyd. Why had the President done this? Is it possible to be blasphemous in a photo opportunity? What sort of things are in the book he was holding that might put a big question mark against both the photo and the person posing?
My mind turned to the 4th commandment which warns against ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’. I also thought about some passages where a Prophet claims to speak for the Lord. It turns out, however, that they were mistaken at best, lying at worst. (If you are interested see Jeremiah ch. 27; also 1 Kings ch. 22.)
Further thought led me to consider the usual way Christians view ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’. That is when someone uses the name of God or Christ as a swear word. Christians do not like this. Yet the person involved may well be kinder, more helpful, more generous, than many of us who judge them.
Christians may well ‘stick to the rules’ but in practical terms we are not always positive people. Jesus warned against ‘Blind guides! You strain off a midge, yet gulp down a camel!’ That follows on from this accusation, ‘you have overlooked the weightier demands of the law -justice, mercy, and good faith.’
In other words that image of a man holding up a Bible in front of a church could be a mirror that Christians need to pay attention to. Another picture turned up on social media a few days later. I must warn you that it is ‘fake news’. It is the same man holding up the Bible but this time the notice board behind him reads ‘Again when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers standing up in synagogues and at street corners for everyone to see them’.
One of the great things to come out of this pandemic is the practicality, reality, and celebration of our common humanity. Across barriers of race, class, gender, religion, and age. For me that is exemplified by another very powerful image from just down the road – Colston’s statue coming down before being ‘tipped overboard’.
‘Justice, mercy, and good faith’. I have been so impressed by all the ‘good news stories’ that have been both experienced by us, and reported to us, of acts of mercy demonstrating both good faith and justice. It was Martin Luther King who said that Justice was ‘love in action’. Can Christians be too careful not to use the wrong words whilst being careless of those weightier demands? Our love for God needs to be practised not just preached about. One final image the black man carrying the white man out of danger, love in action.
Robert Draycott (Rev)