I have a particular holiday memory that I will always treasure. The day began a little depressingly however, because it was my birthday and it was the last day of what had been a wonderful holiday in Turkey.
It was no fun abandoning the sunshine of Asia Minor for the dreary storms of Wales, and if that were not enough I knew I would have to spend most, if not all of my special day, locked up in a plane and then cooped up in a car.
But I needn’t have worried; my fellow passengers had it all in hand. Some of them had unearthed my secret and they had had a quiet word with the captain. As a result I spent the whole journey from Izmir to Gatwick sitting in the cockpit. I will never forget that trip (and given the events of 9/11 I guess I will never repeat it either).
I often think of that experience when I read the Book of Revelation, a book I believe that has much to teach us as we seek to be faithful to Christ in our post-modern, post-Christian culture. I believe it allows us an insight into the “heavenly cockpit” or the “cosmic control centre” and in so doing offers us reassurance as well as a sense of who we are, and how we should react to everything life throws at us.
It is helpful to think like this as we wait for the European Court of Human Rights judgements in the cases of nurse Shirley Chaplin, relationships counsellor Gary McFarlane, airline worker Nadia Eweida, and registrar Lilian Ladele.
I am in complete agreement with the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali, who has called on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to give religious freedom “its pre-eminent place in European society” and warned that the rights of Christians are being "vanquished" by UK judges.
It seems to me that human rights legislation is increasingly being used to remove Christian values from public discourse as the courts seek to uphold the rights of minority groups.
But given the current climate I have my doubts about the outcome, especially the ruling on issues concerning gays. In fact I have a feeling that things are likely to get much tougher for Christians in the immediate future.
John’s famous, if famously difficult apocalyptic insights are very helpful because they challenge us to appreciate the full cosmic significance of the things we see happening in the world of space, time and matter.
John’s readers must have felt that they were a small religious community battling against overwhelming odds. The pressures of a pagan culture and the imperialist regime seemed to have the odds stacked in their favour, but this was a distorted and limited view of reality. John had seen that they, and therefore we, are key players in a cosmic conflict, and that we can rest assured of the ultimate outcome.
The world is in a mess and the church is often despised and persecuted. This is because human beings have warped natures and prefer to live independently of God. They are easily duped too and as a result they can be used by the evil one who has a particular hatred of those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
John was confident that the church would triumph but he knew that victory would not come without a price. That’s why he said that those who have a share in God’s Kingdom must learn to be patient in the face of opposition and temporary setbacks.
We need to remember this for the church in the West is beginning to experience something of the challenge that the first Christians faced. We must stand firm whatever the pressures. We will win the war but we may lose a few battles on the way.
Whatever the turbulence though, we must never lose sight of the fact that that Jesus is in control, and because of that our ultimate destiny (and our destination) is guaranteed.
It may be about to get tougher for Christians
Published 09 September 2012 | Rob James