A year on from some of the most high profile effects of the worldwide recession, we can look back at so many facts and figures which show what happened and what is continuing to happen as governments work to find a way out of recession as quickly as possible. Some of the figures make sobering reading due to the human cost they point to.
In the midst of great challenges, it’s all too easy to despair. Jesus pointed out that we think in a human way, not as God does. If we saw circumstances but also remembered that God is there for us, we would cope better with what life throws at us.
The readings at the noon SLT service were Psalm 116:1-8, Proverbs 1:20-33, Mark 8:27-end. The reflection follows:
There have been programmes broadcast in the media recently about the events of last year and earlier as the current worldwide recession developed and was finally admitted to by governments worldwide. Phrases that we had not even heard before became common parlance – credit crunch, sub-prime mortgages, hedge funds, the Libor rate and so on. Interest rates in many parts of the world began to tumble and governments began to bail out their banks, amid fears that the banking system would collapse and with it, society as we know it.
As last year rolled on, the casualties began to occur. House builders had to cut back their work as a mortgage famine prevented people buying new homes. Millions of existing home owners were at risk as their lenders struggled to survive. People became trapped by negative equity as house prices tumbled but mortgages to cover the previous high value of the property still had to be paid. Around about a year ago, UK house prices had suffered a more than 10% drop in a year. In the US, unemployment reached 6.1%. Wall Street bank, Lehman Brothers collapsed, followed by take-overs and rescue plans for many other banks worldwide. Efforts were put into protecting investments as it became apparent that the life savings of some people were in jeopardy. By October last year the economies of both the US and the UK were shrinking and by November the Eurozone was in recession.
Well known firms began to go out of business, some of them having been around for 100 years or more. Car companies were particularly hard hit. Stock markets in major economies fell by 30-40% in value in the year to December 2008. The figures go on and on.
Hidden among the many facts and figures are those that point most clearly to the human cost of this recession. In 2008 more people lost their job in the US than in any year since WWII. Worldwide 51 million jobs are expected to be lost in 2009. In the EU unemployment will rise by over 10% this year. In the UK the rate of unemployment is nearly 8%.
Each of those lost jobs has a huge impact on the people involved. The fact that calls to support services for the suicidal rose by around 30% last year shows this. Yet these are the lucky people in some ways. At least they found they could reach out for help and so perhaps avoid suicide. Others did not do so well. Men in particular have been hard hit, feeling they have failed if they are no longer able to earn the money to keep their families. Faced with losing house, car, the comforts of life as they have known it, for many the way out has been suicide. Sadly, it has often not stopped at that. Several fathers of families have killed family members first before committing suicide.
The problem is summed up well by Jesus: ‘You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’. There is nothing wrong with doing well at work, of providing well for your family, of making a profit for your company, but it really depends on your mindset. If things get out of balance then people find themselves in the situation of gaining the whole world but losing their souls. When the world which has been earned and enjoyed falls apart, as it has done for so many in this recession, there is nothing left to support them, to give meaning to life.
It would be wrong to say that by living for God, making his priorities our priorities, putting aside self in favour of putting Jesus in charge of our lives, we will be guaranteed happiness no matter what happens. When things go wrong in life, Christians suffer like other people do. If someone dies, the Christian mourns. If a job is lost, the Christian still worries about bills and so on. If a much longed for outcome doesn’t happen, the Christian is still disappointed. Jesus didn’t say we wouldn’t suffer. On the contrary, in the Gospel passage he talks of taking up our cross. The cross epitomises suffering; dying on a cross was a very cruel death indeed.
The difference for a Christian is that we know there is more to life than what we see. We know we are loved and watched over by God and that he can be depended on. It’s a bit like the difference between walking a tightrope without a safety net or with one. Without the net, there is nothing to catch you if you fall; with it, you know you will not fall far enough or land hard enough to die. Instead of despairing in times of trouble, we can turn to God.
Listen to the Psalmist:
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pains of hell took hold of me;
by grief and sorrow was I held.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
‘O Lord, I beg you, deliver my soul.’
The Lord watches over the simple;
I was brought very low and he saved me.
Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has been gracious to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears and my feet from falling.
Here was a man facing the challenges of life, suffering as others have suffered in the past and right up to the present day. The difference between him and those who have taken their lives in their despair is that he called to God and was taken from turmoil to rest by God’s grace. His tears were dried and he ceased to stumble through life. The situation didn’t change but he focused on God and so he was able to come through what life threw at him.
It is so easy to get pulled into doing things in line with the priorities of the world. We may not set out to do that, but it can happen. I’m sure Peter didn’t set out to oppose Jesus but he was a man of his time and his picture of the Messiah was probably colouring his judgement. Not only can this happen to individuals but it can happen to organisations also. I have been thinking particularly about our ministry here at the Cathedral. Many people want to research what goes on here and write about it in books and theses. There are interviews broadcast in the media. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing; it might even help us to reach more people and share the Gospel with them. However, it would be very easy for our focus to shift to this sort of thing. We could make ourselves available for anyone who wanted to know about us, we could begin to really enjoy the fame, but gradually our focus would move off the needs of the community here.
We need to set our minds on the things of God, listening to him, accepting his wisdom as it guides us. What he asks of us may be difficult and sometimes not to our liking but he knows what is right and he can see the big picture. I pray that he will help us to serve others in his name and not serve ourselves by seeking to be famous. It could all go so wrong if we concentrate on the wrong things.
As Wisdom says in the book of Proverbs: ‘those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor