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UPDATED MONTHLY AUGUST 2017
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Three days after the Grenfell Tower disaster in London, terrible forest fires raged
through central Portugal in that country’s worst ever tragedy of this kind. Over
60 people died in terrible circumstances. (Around the same number, in both places,
it so happens.) We’ve just come back from a holiday in that part of Portugal: it
has been for us near to home, so to speak. In Portugal, the fires were blamed on
arsonists: wicked. In London, the inferno was caused by a faulty freezer. But it
was caused by a lot of other things as well, so we have learned.
In the case of Grenfell Tower, little short of a witchhunt began to identify, name
and denounce ‘culprits’. There was quickly a disgust felt about such methods, as
much as at the horror we felt over what had happened. I can imagine little more horrible
than facing death in the path of an advancing furnace, and our hearts have been broken
as the news has begun to emerge in greater detail. It is unbearable.
So, it is understandable and very human to want to ask Why? and Who was responsible?
It is understandable because we would all agree that such a tragedy should not happen
(but the fact is that tragedies like this happen all the time, year in year out).
Because we expect, even demand, to live in a world where they do not happen – or
at least not in our own country. And if they do happen, ‘something’ has to happen
to ‘make it better’: justice must be done, compensation must be paid, and (most of
all) we must find an appropriate head to cut off in retribution.
As one who practised as a lawyer for some years, I’ve seen at first hand how our
‘compensation culture’ drives ordinary normal people almost mad, impelled with an
insatiable greed for the better offer or a lust to ‘have my day in court’. And all
too often I can behave just like this myself. Somehow, we demand, there has to be
an atonement for the terrible wrong done to us.
There. I’ve used a religious word. Christians have several words for the things I
have been describing. Free will: a lot of the bad stuff we bring on our own heads.
Sin: things I do, say and think which are wrong. Evil: there is plenty of evil in
this world, alongside (thank God) much which is lovely and good. Justice: what is
right, something we should all strive to achieve. But ultimately, God is Judge. And
atonement: most importantly of all, Jesus took all that is wrong, evil, sinful on
his own shoulders as he died on the Cross. He died for us, in our place. And that
means, as a result, there is forgiveness. Two amazing things happen: starting with
me, I realise that I am the one who needs forgiveness. And secondly, I now find it
possible to forgive the wrongs done to me.
Yes, compensation might still need to be paid. Yes, wrongdoers might need to be punished
or disciplined for what has gone wrong. Yes, things might need to be changed so that
the same wrongs are not repeated. And tears of grief will still be shed in the wake
All this is very understandable and human. And God stands with us, not apart from
us. In fact he has hung in pain and suffering Himself.