February 24, 2014
With the recent flooding all across the UK, John Stevens (National Director of FIEC), has written this brilliantly insightful article. We’ve shared it here in full – have a read (or check out the original post here complete with pictures via this link)…
Given the media coverage of the floods afflicting the South West and the Thames Valley you would have thought that the UK was in the midst of a major national emergency. The Prime Minister has taken personal charge of the situation and cancelled his visit to the Middle East. Politicians of all parties are flocking to the affected areas in their green wellies, showing just how much they “care” and how determined they are to “do something.” On Monday evening I watched Jeremy Paxman’s excellent series on the Great War, and it was somewhat jarring at 10 o’clock to switch from the true horrors of Passchendaele to the over-hyped “flood crisis” of today.
No doubt the floods are terrible for those who have been forced to leave their homes, travel disruption is inconvenient for thousands, and there is no prospect of a let up in the weather – but it seems to me that there has been something of a collective loss of perspective. The last figures I saw suggested that just under 1000 homes have been flooded, about 100 in the Somerset Levels and 900 in the Thames Valley. That compares with over 23,000 homes that were flooded in the dreadful summer of 2007. There have been far more serious flooding incidents in other parts of the country earlier in the year, but they happened to coincide with other major news events such as the death of Nelson Mandela, and so received relatively little media coverage.
As is the case with many unexpected events that disrupt our generally safe and comfortable lives, the floods have revealed some of the idols that enslave our culture, in which we put our hope for salvation and happiness. There are at least five that come to mind:
Idolatry of the State
One of the most powerful idols in the UK is the State itself. The response to the floods reveals our expectation that the State will be able to save and rescue us from all calamity, either by preventing it happen or by resolving the damage immediately. When this idol fails to deliver we seek to find someone to blame, whether politicians or the Environment Agency. No doubt government should take reasonable steps to protect its people from harm. However these floods are the result of the heaviest January rainfall for over 250 years. No government can realistically aim to provide protection against [every] possible eventuality, no matter how rare. It would be economically irrational to do so. The Somerset Levels are land that was reclaimed over 400 years ago, and which lies below sea level. Severe flooding is inevitable on occasions and only a small number of homes have in fact been flooded. This doesn’t make it any easier for those who are suffering, but it does put the problem into proper perspective.
Idolatry of our Homes
Another powerful idol is that of our homes. For many people their house is more than just a place to live. It is their main investment, the pinnacle of their life’s achievement and the manifestation of their identity. They have stretched themselves to buy a property in a desirable location, and then poured their very selves in redesigning and redeveloping it to be exactly what they want. Some of the most desirable properties in the South East are riverside properties and therefore intrinsically prone to flooding. It has been noticeable how many people who have been flooded out have expressed grief that they have “lost everything.” It is all too easy to think that they really believe it and that this is not just hyperbole.
Idolatry of Public Opinion
No sooner had the floods become the media story than politicians were falling over themselves to demonstrate how much they cared and how much they were doing. David Cameron held his first press conference at Downing Street for years and took personal charge of the recovery effort. I find it hard to believe that the floods are really more important than a long-planned visit to the Middle East, but he cannot afford to appear not to empathise and act. James Callaghan learnt the hard way that you have to pander to the popular band wagon when he gave his infamous “Crisis? What Crisis?” sound bite during the Winter of Discontent. One of the reasons why our politicians find it so hard to prioritise and make long-term strategic decisions that will benefit the country as a whole is because they are forced to worship at the idol of pleasing the public, responding (or at least appearing to respond) to the clamour of public opinion.
Idolatry of Power and Influence
The media love to give the impression that they are just reporting the “news”, but the reality is that they, alongside the public relations industry and political spin doctors, have immense power to determine the story and influence events. The floods are immediate and emotive, with great human interest stories to hand, but are they really as important as the horrors that are happening in Syria or the Central African Republic? We have heard virtually nothing recently about Egypt, Libya or North Korea. Belgium, a supposedly civilised European state has just voted to allow the euthanasia of children – where is the outrage about that? The “news” often seems little more than a form of soap opera for the viewers to enjoy, stirring faux concern and outrage.
Idolatry of Human Sovereignty
Whilst the floods have been caused by extreme weather conditions brought on by the shift south of the Jetstream, it is constantly intimated that we humans are ultimately responsible for what is happening. The extreme weather is taken as further proof of human-caused global warming, with the implicit assumption that the weather is our fault and under our control. The evidence is far from certain. Other respected scientists believe that the shift in the Jetstream is the result of changes in solar activity, perhaps the onset of a mini-ice age that periodically affects the earth. The desire to find a human cause, which allows of a human solution, is a manifestation of our desire to control our own lives, destiny and world. We find it hard to accept that there may be forces beyond our control and understanding, much less a divine sovereign who might be behind what the insurance industry calls euphemistically “acts of God.”
Albeit that the current floods are relatively small scale compared to previous such events, they do expose these underlying idolatries, and are a brief reminder that our idols will fail and cannot save us. Only a small number or people have been directly touched by the floods, but the collective angst and insecurity we feel surely flows from the fact that we can put ourselves into the shoes of those who have been affected, and deep down we fear how we would cope if we had to face the fact that our idols had failed us.
In Luke 6v46-49 Jesus compared the coming judgement of God to a flood that will sweep away everything that is not founded on the “rock” of faith in him and his word. On that day the folly of all the idols on which people have based and built their lives will be exposed.
The Wise and Foolish Builders
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete,” (Luke 6:46-49).
The current floods ought to be a sobering reminder to us of the fact that God’s judgement is coming, a warning to make sure that we are not basing our hope on idols that cannot save us when it does, and a spur to urge others to repent and come to Jesus before it is too late.