Hope in a World of Contrasts

We live in a complex world in which there are striking contrasts. This week the population of the world will reach 7 billion. 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, including China and India, which account for 37% of the total. The rate of growth is rapid; from 5 billion in 1987 to 6 billion in 1999, and to 7 billion in 2011. The projection is to 8 billion by 2025. The implications of this growth in terms of the demands on finite resources are very significant. Wealthy parts of the world such as Europe and North America have a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth.

Amongst the billions of the people in the world every single person is precious. This was vividly seen last week in the amazing rescue of 18 day old baby Azra, who was pulled from the rubble of a collapsed apartment block in Ercis, in eastern Turkey, two days after the earthquake. It was very moving to see her being gently and lovingly held by her rescuers, and then being reunited with her mother and grandmother, who had also been rescued. Her father is still missing.

Last week marked the 44th anniversary of the Abortion Act in the UK. During that time there have been 7 million abortions in the UK. Each year there are more than 40 million abortions worldwide. The annual number of deaths worldwide, from all causes, is 56 million. In 2008 out of a total of 208 million pregnancies worldwide, 41 million (20%) ended in induced abortions. Many of these abortions are medically unsafe and some mothers die. Every mother undergoing an abortion procedure needs loving support and care.

In Psalm 24 the Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” At the beginning of time he blessed the people he had created and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.” The earth on which we live is unique. There is no other planet which is so wonderfully fertile with an abundance of water and life. This shows the Lord’s kindness to us all. His ultimate purpose in Jesus is that there will be a new heaven and earth filled with a great multitude of people that no-one can count from every nation, tribe and people.

The Death of a Dictator

Muammar Gaddafi is dead. After 8 months of civil war he was captured and killed by former rebel forces in Sirte, his home town. He had ruled Libya for 42 years and was responsible for many atrocities both within Libya and in other countries. He was one of the richest men in the world with a personal fortune estimated at more the £100 billion. His children, some of whom have also died, were also billionaires. The graphic images of his last moments, and of his dead body, have been broadcast around the world. He died at the hands of some of the people whom his regime had so badly mistreated.

Power and money are very powerful influences in our lives. Until this year Gaddafi ruled supreme in Libya. No-one dared to oppose him because those who did were imprisoned, tortured and killed. His power enabled him to accumulate his vast fortune. Power can have an intoxicating effect when everyone obeys our commands and we can buy everything we want. It seems that even in his last moments he tried, unsuccessfully, to buy his freedom. He may have been killed with his own silver revolver.

Many people today do not believe in God or eternity. Their philosophy is “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” If this is true then Colonel Gaddafi’s life was a success. For 42 years he reigned supreme and enjoyed every pleasure this world offers. His power and money, and the fact that Libya has vast oil reserves, ensured that, until this year, the international community never really held him to account. His last few months were difficult, and his last few minutes terrifying, but now he is dead and will never face divine judgement. Can this really be true?

The Bible teaches that we are all accountable to God. The apostle Paul wrote, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” This ultimate reality is the essential foundation of morality. We are all accountable for the things we do and will be judged by God. We need to take this seriously. The wonderful message of the Gospel is that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him, whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

Let the little children come to me

I recently attended the funeral service of a 5 month old little boy. His father carried the small white coffin into the church with the mother by his side. There were many family members and friends present. We were all very sad. Brandon died of sudden infant death syndrome, from which about 300 babies aged under one die each year in the UK. His father had checked him at 6.30am on a Sunday morning and he was fine. When he went into his room again at 9.30am the little boy had died. It was a devastating shock for the father and mother, the family, and all who know them.

The love and kindness of our family and friends is so important at times like this. At the service, and later at the graveside, you could sense the loving concern of all who were there. There were few words, but many hugs and tears. The grieving parents knew they were not alone in their tragic loss. At the service one of the grandmothers spoke very movingly about her grandson and all he had meant to the family during his very short life.

Tragic situations raise questions in our minds to which there are no easy answers. Sometimes, sadly, they move people away from God, but it is always best to go to him with our sadness. Faith in Jesus Christ is a great source of comfort and strength in the days immediately following a death and, also, in the days and years which follow. In giving his only Son to be the Saviour of the world, God identified with us in the tragedies and sadnesses of life. Because of his great love for us, Jesus died to pay the price of our sins. By his death he destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. He promised his disciples, “Because I live you also will live.”

During his ministry Jesus showed great love for children. One day when parents brought their little children to him the disciples told them to go away. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Brandon’s parents have found real comfort in their sadness in committing the little boy they loved so much into the loving care of the Lord Jesus.

Following the puck of life

The obituary in The Times for one of the most influential people of his generation read, “Steven Jobs, founder of Apple and Pixar, was born on February 24, 1955. He died of cancer on October 5, 2011, aged 56.” The story of Steve Jobs’ life is remarkable. His natural parents gave him up for adoption and he was brought up by a working class couple, Justin and Clara Jobs, in Mountain View, Santa Clara County. He dropped out of College in 1972, at the age of 17, after one semester. In 1976 he founded Apple in his parents’ garage along with his friend and fellow computer enthusiast Steve Wozniak.

In 1985 he was fired from his own company by the chief executive he had appointed. Because of the success of another company he had started, he was able to buy his way back into Apple and became chief executive in 1996. In the years that followed, Apple grew into one of the largest and most successful companies in the world and Steve Jobs became one of the richest and most influential people of his generation. Millions of people across the world own one of Apple’s products and derive great pleasure from using them. The last few years of his life were very difficult after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

Steve Jobs said his philosophy at Apple was influenced by something Wayne Gretsky, a famous ice hockey player, had said. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” So Steve Jobs made sure that Apple was always designing products which people were going to want in the future.

This says something important to us all. This world is not our ultimate home. Each day that passes brings us closer to eternity. So it is important for us all to think seriously about where the puck of our life is going to be. An old Negro spiritual says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up for me, somewhere beyond the blue.” Whether life in this world brings us great riches or great hardships we are all moving towards the ultimate reality of eternity. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Wise people hear his words and humbly entrust their eternal future to him.

When bad things happen

Some news stories are heart breaking. A few weeks ago a man in our town went into the hairdresser’s shop where his estranged wife worked and shot her with a shotgun. She was seriously wounded and has only recently been released from hospital. After shooting his wife the man went to local woods near their home and killed himself. A few days after his mother came out of hospital the couple’s 16 year old son hung himself in the same woods where his father died, and where his ashes had been scattered.

The background to this tragic situation is that the couple had separated and the wife wanted a divorce. The husband was angry and decided to shoot her. As he entered the hairdressers shop he shouted “I love you!” and then shot her. It is not clear whether he decided to kill himself beforehand or made this decision after he had shot his wife. I’m sure it never occurred to him that his actions would lead to the death of their son, who was a sensitive boy and was deeply affected by what happened.

Life can be very difficult. When big problems come it can be hard to see our way past them. Problems in family relationships are especially painful. When we are in the midst of the problem it may seem that life is not worth living. We may even think that everyone would be better off if we were not around, but that is never true. Our lives, especially in the family, are closely intertwined and suicide is devastating for all who are near to us. Those who are left often feel guilty and think they are responsible for what has happened or that they should have done something to help.

So what should we do when we find ourselves in desperation? It’s important to talk to someone we trust and to seek their help. It is also important to pray to God for his help. In Psalm 34 we read, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” A well-known hymn says, “Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness: take it to the Lord in prayer. In his arms he’ll take and shield you, you will find a solace there.” So don’t give up hope. With God there is always a way forward from where we are.