How does a secular nation navigate through grief?

It is a very strange thing watching my modern, western nation mourn. For five solid days my entire country has been throwing itself with abandon into a spirit of philanthropy and religious fervour such as has never been seen since WWII. Prayers are being offered to any god that will listen; religious leaders are shaking hands across the aisle; discussions on the correct procedure to denote respect at a mosque are being held on talk back radio; our Mormon-raised, atheist Prime Minister wears a headscarf (quite appropriately) out of respect to the Muslim families she meets with and the Mongrel Mob are standing guard outside local mosques. Non-believing office workers are visiting mosques in their lunch breaks, removing their shoes and joining in prayers to an Allah whom they have never bowed the knee to before and likely never will again.

This frenzy of religiosity seems admirable on the surface but to me, it sticks in the throat and leaves a bitter aftertaste of hypocrisy. Agnosticism is a banner flown high over our culture, tolerance and egalitarianism acting as touch points for our values. In practice, this works itself out as a base level of studied godlessness, promoting reason, feelings and politics as supreme. This has been pursued even to the point of an attempt to legalise assisted suicide, that peculiar combination of reason and emotion that works itself out in the destruction of our neighbours.

But when destruction visits without our permission, oh how different it is. Our priorities find their true order, our weaknesses and fears become immediately and embarrassingly obvious and people start looking at the faith community with a mixture of envy and hope. And it is for this reason that I am beginning to nurse a low-grade simmer of excitement for what the tragedy in Christchurch could do for the people of New Zealand.

As my family and I have suffered through the trials of mental and physical illness over the last five years, I had this piece of Scripture taped to my kitchen door:

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. – Romans 5:3-5

We have learned that strength and hope follows weakness and our selfishness and laziness is pared away in trials of many kinds. Suffering has come to New Zealand and I pray that the provocation of evil in a place where independence of mind is an ultimate good, may cause the sort of soul-searching that leads not to the opiate of the masses but to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. He promises us that he is gentle and lowly in heart, a master that will lead us by quiet waters and restore rest to our souls. A true hope in his unseen presence and providence will bring the sort of peace that no river of flowers or money could ever achieve.

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