Journalists were quick to recognise the irony of the bizarre tragedy of the Costa Concordia on this centennial year of the Titanic sinking. Human hubris and flagrant disregard of caution in the pursuit of pleasure has thrust a screaming metaphor in our European faces, with the Italians in the front row seats.
Two weeks ago we reflected on the relevance of Rembrandt’s painting, Belshazzar’s Feast, as a prophetic statement of the transience of power, wealth and pleasure.
And now the intangible, invisible, incomprehensible world of economics, banking and finance suddenly has a physical embodiment. One minute the party was in full swing, the carefree, holidaying passengers in full trust of captain and crew. The next, everyone was scrambling to save their lives, captain included.
Of course, the unfortunate man had a role model, one journalist suggested–a reckless tycoon with a spraytan, facelift, transplanted hair and bleached grin, who believed marriage vows were for wimps. The difference being that at least Berlusconi had stayed on the bridge to the bitter end, even after he had run his country aground.
Meanwhile, undeterred, elsewhere along the Mediterranean coast, the Croats–at least those who bothered to vote this weekend–have chosen to come on board the European project just as the EU is negotiating some of the rockiest passages in her history.
What can we expect in months and years ahead? No one really knows. Clearly, it’s a time for special vigilance.
Too often, however, we Christians have acted like the carefree passengers, leaving all the worrying to the captain and crew. And, fair enough. Politics is complicated and confusing. Not everybody’s cup of tea.
However, at all times, we as God’s people have a responsibility for our society. We are all part of that, whether or not we’re engaged in politics. A recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxsas has reminded a new generation of readers of the failure of the German Church to ‘understand the times’ as Hitler rose to power.
In a Harvard speech some years ago, theologian Tom Wright explained a three-fold framework for a Christian political theology. Firstly, God intends the world to be ordered, and will eventually put it in proper order. Secondly, to avoid chaos between now and then, he uses human authorities–even some who don’t believe in him–to bring a measure of his order in advance of the end. Since that puts awful temptations in the way of authorities, Wright argues, God’s people have the vital calling to speak the truth to them and call them to account in anticipation of that same final day. *
Which brings us to the purpose of the Schuman Centre for European Studies: to equip Christians with biblical perspectives to ‘understand the times and know what Israel should do’. (1 Chron. 12:32).
And here’s what’s on our agenda in the coming months:
• The Evening School of European Studies: We’re halfway through the 12-evening course, with 15 students, some following via internet. Next course begins in October.
• Historical walk in Zwolle and Deventer, Feb 11: As part of the evening school, yet open for all.
• European Studies Course, Copenhagen: This coming weekend we start a six-day study course covering the same content as the evening school, one Saturday each month until June.
• The State of Europe Forum, Copenhagen, May 9&10: By invitation, this forum aims to bring together 100 European leaders in church, business education, arts, media, politics and healthcare to find biblical responses to challenges in Europe today.
• The Heritage Tour, June 30-July15: Open for all, this two-week tour visits 40 locations in Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland and France to learn about the people and movements that shaped Europe through their faith.
• The School of European Studies, May 6-July27: a 12-week second-level UofN course led by my wife and myself. The first month will be on board the sailing vessel, Next Wave, sailing from Rotterdam to Copenhagen. The course also includes the Heritage Tour. (see www.schumancentre.eu for details of these events)
Wright laments the historic split of religion and politics, of faith and public life. The good news, he says, is that the great scriptural narrative tells a story which calls all human empires to account, including the EU. This is the biblcal story of what he calls ‘the strange lordship’ of Jesus Christ.
Ultimately we are all accountable to this lordship, in Brussels, Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Rome…wherever we live.
Till next week,
* God & Government, Nick Spencer & Jonathan Chaplin, eds. SPCK, p75