In times like these, we need to draw on reserves we didn't know we had

(Photo: Unsplash/NikMacMillan)

Politics is full of disappointments. Whatever party you support, whatever position you take on political matters, you are bound to face disappointment at some point. As a Liberal Democrat, I probably have more experience than most!

We are often stoic in the face of disappointment, stoic in the hope that it will end soon, in the hope of future victories. But sometimes disappointment goes on longer than we expect. Sometimes the hoped-for victories seem to evade our grasp and retreat further into the distance.

Recent disappointment has included, for many including me, a deep sadness at leaving the EU and hope that we may join again in our lifetimes. For Conservative supporters, it was the wilderness years between 1997 and 2010; the Lib Dems after suffering a near-wipe-out in 2015; and Labour's shock losses in some of their former heartlands in the 2019 election, just a few short months ago.

For many Christians, it is a disappointment to see the UK becoming increasingly aligned to secular humanism and to radical individualism. Christians are often viewed disparagingly in this environment, and it is no longer assumed that people will have a knowledge of even the basics of the great Biblical stories, let alone understand a Christian world view. To many Christians, politics feels like such a mucky business that they become discouraged from engaging with it at all.

As a fell runner, I know all too well the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think you have reached the top and realise that there is a higher peak beyond; the disappointment and the need to find new strength to dig in. As a Blackburn Rovers fan, I understand the patient waiting that is often required before glory is restored! Hopefully...

On top of these disappointments, events beyond our control often cause us increased anxiety; the most recent being the inexorable and invisible spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

In times like these, we often have to dig in for longer than we expected or desired - to draw on reserves we didn't know we had.

When politics or public events are tough and seemingly intractable, where do we find our strength?

As Christians we have a bigger perspective, a bigger story. We have the certain hope that we have been promised better times to come.

There are many stories in the Bible of God's people having to wait for what they have been promised. Abraham and Sarah becoming parents; Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years; the 70 years that the Jewish people spent in exile in Babylon. We can also think of Joseph languishing in Pharaoh's jail, waiting for the chief cupbearer to appeal to Pharaoh to free him from his wrongful imprisonment. Genesis 42 tells us that two full years passed before the cupbearer remembered his existence.

When we are worried about the state of our nation, our world and our politics, we must remember that we have a greater hope that will ultimately sweep away the disappointments and anxieties that crowd in upon us in the here and now.

Jeremiah chapter 50 talks about the fall of Babylon. This was at a time when Babylon was in its ascendancy. Those around him, no doubt listening to him, would have laughed at and ridiculed Jeremiah. Yet 65 years later, recorded in Daniel 9, that is exactly what happened. Babylon fell. Today it is a Unesco World Heritage site, patronised by tourists with guide books and cameras.

In Revelation, John talks about Babylon to refer to the power and might of the Roman Empire that ruled the world in which he lived. Yet ancient Rome too is now in rubble and ruins. The same will go for the mighty USA, the European Union, all the UK political parties, and every power and authority that holds sway in our world today. They are all temporary. They will all come to nothing.

But God is sovereign. He was on the throne at the height of the powers of Babylon and Rome, and He will remain on the throne for ever more. So we must not panic. The exile may feel long but we are awaiting the King's return and we can be confident in his promise to wipe away every tear, so that there is no more mourning, sorrow or death. His glory will be restored.

This is temporary; this crisis, this government, this suffering. It is temporary, but it matters. We should not give up hope or withdraw from political engagement. There will be some reading this who think nothing I have said so far is revolutionary. In fact, it is pretty much the conclusion you have reached anyway. All politicians will fail. We've had enough, we know we have a king who will deliver so why bother engaging in politics at all?

But I have a challenge for you. We follow a God who saw the mucky business of the world he had made and he stepped into it. Ultimately our efforts will not be the answer: we are part of the world's problem, not its solution. But if you are a Christian, you follow a king who looked on a broken world in love and compassion and stepped down in humility to save it. If the world is ever going to believe that is the kind of king we follow, should we not be doing the same?

Politics matters. Why? Because people matter. We don't need to join the endless ranks of disappointed grumblers and moaners, but we mustn't run for the bunker either. If the gospel is ever going to ring true, Christians and the church need to engage, to serve and love our country and our neighbour. So I plead with you not to wash your hands of politics in the face of disappointment.

In these uncertain political times, with a new disease stalking the globe and anxiety levels on the rise, let's remember the hope which we profess and know that even amidst our disappointments, we are part of a Kingdom that will never end. You don't need to despair, but it is absolutely essential that you care.

Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and former leader of the Liberal Democrats.