Prophet or plonker? Our culture wants to airbrush unpopular views out of the public square
The reaction to Oxfordshire councillor David Silvester's comments on God's interference with recent British weather patterns has been swift, and for the most part unsympathetic.
In a letter to his local paper, David Silvester said he had warned the PM the legislation would result in "disaster". He wrote: "The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war."
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he was entitled to his "strong Baptist view of the world", but had defied a request not to do further media interviews and promptly suspended him from the party. The Bishop of Norwich was equally dismissive in his Thought for Day on Radio 4 suggesting that his views were more reflective of a less sophisticated age. And just as importantly they conveyed a distorted picture of God because they reflected His anger not His love.
Not surprisingly UKIP's LGBT group has issued an open letter in which it has condemned his observations adding: "The Met Office have stated 'The main reason for the mild and wet weather so far is that we have seen a predominance of west and south-west winds, bringing in mild air from the Atlantic – as well as generally unsettled conditions.' – regardless of whether you believe in a God or not, sudden rainfall has not just formulated out of nowhere upon the UK. An 'Act of God' this is not."
Now I have no idea if Mr Silvester is an inspired prophet, and I have no desire to affirm his assertions. But I do feel that the varying reactions to his comments reflect an increasingly distorted understanding of the God we find revealed in the Bible.
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Take the bishop's insistence on anger (he was heavily reliant on Julian of Norwich here). The Scriptures do not say anger is a sin. They insist that human beings need to be very careful lest in their anger they say and do things that are incompatible with their faith. Indeed the late John Stott rightly suggested that: "There is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed when we fail to do so we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil."
God gets angry. Both testaments are saturated with that truth for "Anger is the fluid love bleeds when you cut it". (CS Lewis)
David Silvester's critics seem to have forgotten or ignored another Biblical claim too. We do not live in a Deist, mechanistic universe which is free of divine interference. I fail to see how any Christian can accept that we can explain everything in terms of natural cause and effect. The weather, like human history itself must be understood in such terms of course, but there are times when we have to recognise that they are merely partial explanations. The God who revealed Himself through the prophets and finally in His Son, is constantly at work in human history. He can even use a plague of locusts to make His point as the prophet Joel stressed in his own day.
Sadly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to say things like this without being labelled "extremist, barmy or nasty". But this in itself is a symptom of a culture that wants to airbrush unpopular (and often Biblical) views out of the public square. But we dare not become a "Barmy Army" confined to barracks. We must do all we can to ensure that we speak the truth in humility, grace and love. That might mean admitting that we sometimes get things wrong but if we do not point others to the truth who will – indeed who can?