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Seeking the Common Good

Seeking the Common Good

Reflection by Canon James Mustard

So, we have a new government.  

The challenges it faces are enormous: slow economic growth, poor productivity, public services at breaking point, and no sign of promised “Brexit dividends” to help us on our way. 

I have hope in a government that will have the energy and vigour to meet these challenges. I am consoled that the United Kingdom appears to have bucked the trend of other western nations and has, in this parliament, rejected right-wing populism.

Biblical narratives of leaders and gods fascinate me.

Scripture tells us of many other gods: Marduk of the Babylonians, Baal of the Canaanites, Astarte of the Amorites to name but three; archaeological evidence bears witness to the authenticity of these cults. But only God is still worshipped in our time.

The defining feature of these other gods was that they were strongly associated with the success of the people and kings who worshipped them. The moment a nation’s political fortunes failed, gods were considered to have let the people down, and their images cast into the fire.  They were the icons of national-populist movements and they simply could not endure national failure.

However, God endures. I think there are two reasons for that. First, although having decidedly human attributes, God is not represented by an image: it is difficult to destroy the reputation of something that cannot be seen or grasped. Secondly, the Israelites came to understand that a national failure may not be down to God abandoning them, but them abandoning God. Their failures are their responsibility. God loves them no matter what.

It’s the Israelites’ movement away from scapegoating, from blaming their failures on others, that makes them a truly remarkable society, and quite counter-cultural for their time and place. And their living God endures from generation to generation.

Yet today, so much of the politics of the “Christian” West has been captivated by the notion that our failures are fault of others: immigrants, Mexicans, Europeans, “elites”, liberals.  My hope is that in this election result the United Kingdom has pulled back from such simplistic scapegoating.

If we are to build a better society, it will require, after the example of the Israelites, to look sharply at ourselves, not to scapegoat or cast our gods into the fire, but consider how we as a society, government, communities, and businesses have contributed to our nation’s present predicament.

Then, we can consider how we might best lift each other up and seek the Common Good.


Photo: No. 10 Downing Street