Complexity and the Kingdom of God
The Welby versus Wonga story took an unexpected twist when it transpired that the church, while resolving to put Wonga out of business was, at the same time, one of its investors, albeit by a circuitous route.
At least there was some Matthew 6:3 going on; clearly the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.
And Archbishop Welby was rightly irritated and embarrassed by what the other hand was doing.
He spoke of the complexity of dealing with the world according to strict principles. As the BBC put it:
“….he said it is difficult to decide exactly which businesses are unethical, giving hypothetical examples of a clothes company which makes socks for the military or a hotel which provides pornography through the TVs in its rooms.”
Welby was quoted as saying:
“If you exclude any contact with anything that directly or indirectly at any point gets you anywhere bad, you can’t do anything at all.”
What’s an archbishop to do?
Rather than be paralysed by a lack of a fitting utopia in which to operate, you have to make the best of it.
And I think that’s biblical enough.
It reminds me of this image of the net:
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age.
Matthew 13 vs 47-49
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Matthew 13 vs 24-30
These two images of the Kingdom of God show that how we live now is not perfect. There is good corrupted by bad – and this mix cannot be separated just now. But there is a day of reckoning in these images – a day of sorting; a day of clarity comes after the day of complexity.
I hope Justin Welby continues to look for ways to respond to the needs of English society, and that he isn’t dragged down by wading through the treacle that the media will try to put in his way. There are no blanket solutions for social and ethical problems – that are free from other, as yet undiscovered problems.
But we have to try and make the best of it for now.