DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?

‘At the end of the day you’re another day older
And that’s all you can say for the life of the poor’

This week I went to see Wellington School’s production of Les Misérables. It was a genuinely magnificent show with some truly wonderful performances. All those involved are to be congratulated for their achievements.

But as I watched I couldn’t help thinking how those present were made up only of those who can and those who have. On stage there was no room for those who can not – for those who, never mind walking out to perform in front of a full house, find it difficult to leave their homes each morning and who struggle to make eye contact with their next door neighbour. And in the audience there was no room for those who have not, for those who, never mind the £10 ticket price, worry if they will be able to find another 50p for the electricity meter.

Les Misérables aren’t confined to 19th century France – they are very much part of 21st century Britain. They interact with us daily. Do you hear the people sing? I doubt it. And if you can, more than likely it’s a lament. For their distress isn’t a cue to pour out their souls by way of a plaintive melody. On the contrary, their genuine heartache, their real struggle and intense sadness is, at the end of the day, a prompt only for tears. And not theirs only.

One can’t help feeling that if we think we have it hard, others have it very much harder. And, with yesterday’s sharp rise in fuel prices and the rapidly increasing cost of living, one can only foresee that, for many, things are about to get very much worse.

Where I wonder will they turn?

If we think we are overwhelmed by the needs of others now, one can only imagine how much worse it’s soon going to become.

When tomorrow comes.

Even so, there is hope. Les Misérables is a story rich in Christian imagery and the musical finishes with these hopeful words:

‘Do you hear the people sing lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light. For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.’

Because, at the end of the day, there is a day after tomorrow. And whilst, in the meantime, it doesn’t excuse a lack of compassion on our part, it is nonetheless good to know that there is a day coming when we ‘will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord, we will walk behind the ploughshare, we will put away the sword. The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.’

Somewhere beyond the barricade, there really is a better world – one that I too long to see.

Perhaps, then, there is cause for singing after all.


Related posts:

To read ‘Eleanor Rigby is not at all fine’, click here

To read ‘Hearing the grass grow’, click here

To read ‘The Repair Shop’, click here

To read ‘Gratitude and Regret’, click here

To read ‘When the jokes on you’, click here

To read ‘An audience for grief’, click here

To read ‘Greneral Practice – A Sweet Sorrow’, click here

And some explicitly Christian posts:

To read ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here

GENERAL PRACTICE IN THE LIGHT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

We are now two years into the coronavirus pandemic and, although cases are increasing again currently, there is, perhaps, still a little light just about visible on the horizon. And perhaps there are some things we we can learn by looking back on the last 24 months.

1. It is possible to be content with less

Rather than constantly striving to gain more from this life, we would do well to be content to enjoy the gift of life we already have. We can eat drink and be merry, not merely because, with our death perhaps imminent, that is all there is, but rather because today we are alive, and there is food, drink and merriment to be enjoyed. We should be thankful for all that we have already been given and encourage our patients to be thankful too, especially those who seem unreasonably dissatisfied with their minor concerns. Discontent breeds unhappiness and causes us to waste too much time in pursuing the unattainable.

2. Much of this life is uncertain.

We do not know what tomorrow will bring, still less that which will occur next week, next month, next year. We are not the masters of our fate, nor that of those we love or indeed those for whom we care professionally. It is foolish to imagine or insist that we can control even our small corner of the world and, while not encouraging a careless disregard for the safety of others, it is foolish for us to try. Furthermore we should not be too surprised when the unexpected occurs, regardless of how unwelcome that occurrence might be.

3. There is much that we do not, and cannot, know.

And there is plenty that is not for us to ever know at all. With experts often in disagreement and governmental advice changing daily, it became clear that neither scientists nor politicians can be expected to guide us infallibly in how best to proceed. Since even science is not omniscient, wisdom dictates that we acknowledge how little we truly understand. We should neither arrogantly pretend that we invariably know best nor intolerantly criticise those who clearly don’t know either. Everyone makes mistakes and all of us are allowed to sometimes be wrong.

An unhealthy and excessive fear of death enslaves us. While it is perhaps only human to be anxious at the prospect of our death, only ever acting in ways that reduce our chances of dying serves only to make us less humane. Furthermore, submitting to another set of rules does not necessarily guarantee our safety, and there comes a point when our attempting to do so leaves us with no reason to remain alive, as we fail to live the life we have been given. Such a life would be nothing more than a living death.

4. Some people may be old but they’re no less human as a consequence.

In the early days of the vaccination programme, the joy of meeting and vaccinating those frail but affable and life-affirming individuals who found themselves most vulnerable to COVID-19, was a vivid reminder that older people count. They must not be disregarded, lost in the statistics which can too easily suggest that their death, on account of their multiple pathologies and advanced years, doesn’t matter. We mustn’t become immune to the sadness that surrounds death, no matter how inevitable it may be.

5. It’s not only the exceptional that are worthy of our care.

Remarkable though the achievements of Captain Tom were, the week he died another frail, older man died, also as a result of COVID-19. Few will know his name, only those who loved him for who he was. Many of them will, themselves, not have been fully aware of the ‘heroics’ of his life — how he worked to provide for his family, how, year after difficult year, he was there for his children, and how it was his habit to show kindness to those he lived alongside in the community where he made his home. His too, in its ordinariness, was a remarkable life. Similarly, the frail, older woman who, that same week, covered in a sea of blankets and confined to the chair in which she was wheeled to my vaccination station, was, despite her crumpled body, closed eyes and mute lips, no less worthy than her more able peers of her dose of vaccine, a shot of love.

It is good to herald the exceptional achievements of individuals, but we do, I think, need to be a little careful that in doing so we don’t lose sight of the value of the ordinary. Most of us will not achieve greatness in the eyes of the world, but our everyday contributions still make a significant difference to those among whom we live and work. Furthermore, as my vaccinated, older woman demonstrates, our value isn’t lost the moment we no longer contribute or achieve in the way we may once have done.

Life shouldn’t be competitive, a race to see who wins, rather it should be collaborative, ensuring we all get to the finish line in as fit a state as is possible. Constantly judging each other’s worth, on the basis of our achievements does none of us any good, burdening as it does the currently ‘successful’ with the need to maintain their lofty position while demonising and demoralising those who are deemed to have failed. We, and those with whom we live alongside, need to learn how to be kinder to one another, accepting each other and acknowledging our humanness. We need to stop insisting that we all must be more than we actually are and start, instead, to accept one another despite our being the flawed people we, inevitably, sometimes prove ourselves to be. Because we would all feel a lot more loved if we all became a lot more loving. [More on the nature of love from my own Christian perspective can be read here].

6. We must seek to keep what is vital from being lost.

As doctors, one way to think of our work is that of seeking to keep what is vital from being lost. But we are not up to such a task. We all fail, every day. There are some things we just can’t succeed at, no matter how hard we try. So, as we consult with our patients, perhaps we should sometimes cease from our constant striving to achieve those things which we cannot hope to succeed at and seek instead to remember together what it is that we are all a part of.

Leaving aside any religious convictions, there are those who believe that we live on after our death, as part of humankind’s continuous existence. It’s a comforting notion — but is it one that’s true? For, no matter how prettily we try to wrap it up, the ugly reality is that we do all die. Even so, perhaps there is something worth thinking about here. If we make our lives only about ourselves and what we can experience or achieve, all of what we are will indeed die with us. But if we are part of something bigger, something we gladly accept our being a part of, something vast that continues on beyond the few years of our existence, then there is a sense in which what we are does indeed continue after our death.

Sometimes we, as well as our patients, would do well to be encouraged to appreciate this bigger picture. Because sometimes, rather than looking in, it is better to look out, rather than looking down, it’s better to look up, and rather than looking forward, it’s better to look back.

Without denying the ugliness of death, we all need to remember the beauty of life. There are moments that we do indeed need to fix as they go past, moments that ground us in something bigger than the here and now, moments that will stop us from being lost in our own individual present and, perhaps, enable us to muster some hope for our future. Maybe it is the inability to do this that contributes to the tragedy of dementia, that cruel disease that vividly displays for us the importance of our need to remember. The fact is that we are not meant to live merely in the moment, we aren’t meant to live such lonely, disconnected lives.

7. We need to leave behind remote ways of consulting

Which brings me to my last point, our need to leave behind the remote way of consulting that has become our abnormally ‘new normal’. Back in the 1960, Stanley Milgram, a psychologist from the US, published the results of studies which showed an alarming willingness on the part of subjects to act against their conscience when told to do so by authority figures. Furthermore he demonstrated that individuals tended to act less compassionately towards those with whom they had less contact on account of them seemingly being less concerned about the welfare of those they could not see.

I wonder if this has something to say to those who have been encouraged to remain remote from our patients. Leaving aside the dangers of missing important diagnoses and the withholding of human contact from those who really would profit simply from sometimes seeing us, could it be that working remotely has adverse effects on us too? Might it be that the less contact we have with those for whom we are supposed to care leaves us less concerned about their welfare than we might otherwise have been? Might we too find ourselves just going through the motions? And if that is the case for us, might it also be the case for our patients who, on account of having less contact with us, end up less concerned about us and, as a result, less forgiving of us when things don’t go as well as they would like?

At the start of the pandemic we heard a lot about the so-called ‘new normal’ but there has been nothing normal about the virtual world we have been living and working in. We are all diminished by such a virtual existence. As restrictions continue to be lifted we mustn’t be tempted to hold on to our remote methods of consulting, or, at least, not too tightly. For though some problems may genuinely benefit from such an approach many do not. And even though some conditions can be managed perfectly safely over the phone, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t better dealt with face-to-face. I know for sure there have been occasions when I have made better, more humane, decisions as a result of seeing a patient I might otherwise have been tempted to manage from a distance.

Since, as Milgram’s experiments seem to suggest, remote care runs the risk of us not remotely caring, avoiding patient contact is detrimental for both patients and doctors alike. Furthermore, by working at arm’s length from our patients, we have allowed much of the satisfaction that the job once held to slip through our fingers. As restrictions begin to lift, rather than holding onto the remote consulting that some see as more efficient, I believe we should once again make face to face consultations with patients our normal working practice. By doing so, not only will we providing better care, but we also begin to grab back some of the job satisfaction that has been lost of late.

Three years ago, I wrote of my unease about how medicine was being encouraged to adopt more remote ways of delivering health care. [that article, entitled ‘Contactless’ can be read here.] I never imagined then that I would be practicing the way I have been forced to for much of the last two years, encouraged as I have been to avoid patient contact wherever possible. Such a remote existence must not be allowed to become the norm, not for medicine, nor, indeed, for any other area of our day-to-day lives. Because it’s simply not healthy.

Humans are social creatures. To fully live we need to have contact with one another, we need to touch. When lovers kiss, it’s more than just a sign of their love, it is an act of love too. And that’s important because more than simply knowing we’re loved, we need to feel it too.

We need to be present in each other’s lives. Life alone is hard and so, when it seems there is nothing one can do, to simply be there is of genuine value.

In ‘Out of Solitude’ Henri Nouwen wrote:

‘When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.’

Perhaps that is also the type of GP who cares. If Milgram’s experiments have anything at all to teach us, perhaps it is this: that it is not simply that those who care will draw close to those in difficulty but rather it is those who draw close to those in difficulty who will find themselves caring for others in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able.

Over the coming months let’s look to leave social distancing behind — in all its forms. And let’s look to sit down with, and care for, each other once more. Because living a contactless life isn’t a remotely good idea. It would be shocking to think otherwise.


This article was published in the BJGP in March 2022 under the title ‘General Practice after Covid-19’. I have altered the title and the first paragraph in the light of the current increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. It is an amalgam of blogs I’ve written over the last two years. The piece written three years ago and referred to above is entitled ‘Contactless’. It can be read here.

Posts from which the above is drawn:

To read ‘Vaccinating to remain susceptible’, click here

To read ‘Shot of Love’, click here

To read ‘The Repair Shop’, click here

To read ‘On not remotely caring’, click here

To read ‘The Dig’, cluck here

To read ‘The Ten Demandments’, click here

Some Covid related GP stories

To read ‘Scrooge in the time of Coronavirus’, click here

To read ‘A Bear called Paddington’, click here

To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here

Some ill advised attempts at poetry:

To read ‘I knew a man’, click here

To read ‘If’, click here

To read ‘Room enough’, click here

To read ‘Old hands’, click here

To read ‘A Hard Year for us All’, click here

Some other related, explicitly Christian, blogs:

To read ‘True Love?’, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

To read ‘Covid 19 – dies it suggest we really did have the experience but miss the meaning’, click here

To read ‘Some trust in chariots…’, click here

To read ‘But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope’, click here

At Land’s End

The sun sinks low on Cornwall’s cape
The shadows shift and change their shape
Then stealing up the rocky shore –
What might the nighttime have in store?

Now far away ‘neath darker skies
A parent weeps – a baby dies
The unrelenting ursine plan
Of inhumanity to man

All those whose bombs wreak such despair
All those who kill with ne’er a care
Believe me when I say it’s true
There’ll be no victory for you

For if with tanks and guns you chose
To fight a war – you’ll surely lose
The weak who hate are not the kind
To find that love wins heart and mind

Take Mariupol, Odessa, Kyiv
Your aims you still will not achieve
As shadows shrink and sun ascends
We’ll see that this land never ends.


Related posts:

To read, ‘An audience with grief’, click here

To read, ‘Light in the Darkness’ click here

To read, ‘Real Power’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read ‘Weeping with those who weep’ click here

To read, ‘Jesus wept’, click here

To read ‘A Hand Held’, click here

To read, ‘A Promise Keeper’, click here


Other attempts at poetry.

To read ‘I knew a Man’, click here

To read ‘Room Enough’, click here

To read ‘Old Hand’, click here

To read ‘Beaten’, click here

To read ‘She’s The Patient You Don’t Know You Have’, click here

To read ‘She’s The Patient You Still Don’t Know You Have’, click here

To read ‘Together in Line’, click here

To read ‘Resting in Pieces’, click here

To read ‘Crushed’, click here

To read ‘Masked’, click here

To read ‘Patient’, click here

To read ‘Yesterday and Today’, click here

AN AUDIENCE WITH GRIEF

Sometimes the fun stops and life seems nothing short of impossible.

A week or so ago, hoping, in part, to find some respite from the dreadful news by which we are all currently being bombarded, I went to see ‘The Duke’, the new film starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. It tells the true story of Kempton Bunton, the 60 year old taxi driver who, in 1961, stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. And what a wonderful escape it proved to be. Well almost – for, without spoiling anything for those yet to see it, the film didn’t entirely cause me to forget the events that, as I sat there in the darkness, tragically continued to unfold back outside in the real world. But although it didn’t go unnoticed, it wasn’t simply that the film portrayed a seemingly insignificant individual taking on the might of the establishment that got me thinking. What stood out for me was a single line of dialogue. From memory, it went something like this:

‘It’s hard to find an audience for plays that deal with grief’

The thing with grief is that too often we don’t want to hear about it. Sometimes, perhaps, we find it embarrassing, the awkwardness of not knowing what to say too uncomfortable. On other occasions it’s simply too painful to acknowledge just how awful things really are and we prefer instead to pretend that everything is totally fine and that the fun never stops. This is, to say the least, unfortunate because, for those who grieve, there is often a need to express the sadness that they are experiencing, to have it heard, and felt, by another. For those who mourn, to have their grief felt by someone other than themselves, reassures them that their pain is real, that their loss is important, that the events they have experienced matter, not just to them but also to the wider world.

But to express one’s sadness isn’t merely helpful for the one who grieves. To see the grief of another and share a little in their sadness helps we who, perhaps shedding a tear ourselves, are drawn a little closer to the one who suffers, making a connection with the one who grieves, a connection that, too often in this frequently contactless world, we fail to make. And this indication that we truly care is not only a sign of love, it is an act of love too – one that begins to change us inwardly such that we don’t simply feel the pain of another but are motivated to actually try and do something to help, something practical that might just make a difference.

Today then, perhaps more than ever before, we need to be an audience that deals with grief – the grief of others. We need to ‘weep with those who weep’. Rather than hiding away from what pains us, we need to expose ourselves to the genuinely awful reality of what pains others. We need to connect with those to whom we will never be introduced and allow ourselves to be moved to help, in whatever way we can, those who currently find themselves in such dire need. Ultimately it is that which will reveal us to be truly human, it is that which will ultimately distinguish us from those who, having no regard for others, are willing to destroy all that is beautiful, in pursuit of their own ugly agenda.

When life is nothing short of impossible, we need to somehow find the strength to carry on. When the fun stops, we must not. Because not everyone can escape from what they are currently being bombarded by – not, at least, by simply taking a trip to the cinema.

Our tears, of course, are not enough – they are but the start. It has been said that saving another’s life is rarely like it is in the movies, that rather than it being by pulling someone from a burning building, it can sometimes be achieved by a few kind words of support, a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Well I don’t doubt that that is true, but right now those things won’t be enough for the people of Ukraine. They need more, much more. More even than the money and essential items that are so wonderfully and so generously being donated by so many. Though we must all continue to show love and kindness by giving what we can, right now our fellow Europeans need someone who really can pull people out of burning buildings.

That said, it is not only those in the Ukraine that are suffering. Though Kyiv is only a mere 1500 miles from London, our work brings us daily into contact with those who struggle closer to home, those whose grief is not invalidated by the dreadful events elsewhere in the world. The young woman who, with no hope for the future, returns to her lonely flat with tears spilling down her cheeks, the man, suddenly and unexpectedly made a widower in his 50s who now can’t understand how it has all come to this, the parent anxious about the child who is sick in hospital and with whom she is not permitted to visit. Regardless of the immense suffering elsewhere in the world, these, and many like them, also need our care and concern. They too need their distress to be acknowledged, to be seen as real and significant. They too need our help. And so, having witnessed their suffering, having had it portrayed before us in our consulting rooms just as the suffering of those elsewhere has been portrayed before us on our TV screens, we must endeavour to share a little of their pain and, in so doing, allow ourselves to be moved to offer whatever help we can.

Our compassion must not be something deserved only by those who have lost the most.

Because grief is not a competition to be won.


This is an adapted version of a blog entitled ‘Weeping with those who weep’. To read the original, and more explicitly Christian, version, please click here

Related posts:

To read, ‘Hearing the grass grow’, click here

To read, ‘Contactless’, click here

To read ‘Eleanor Rigby is not at all fine’, click here

To read, ‘General Practice – a sweet sorrow’, click here

To read, ‘On not remotely caring’, click here

To read ‘Vaccinating to remain susceptible, click here

To read, ‘From a distance’, click here

And the following related blogs are explicitly Christian in content:

To read, ‘Light in the Darkness’ click here

To read, ‘Real Power’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read, ‘A Promise Keeper’, click here

To read, ‘Jesus wept’, click here

To read ‘A Hand Held’, click here

To read, ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read, ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone – extended theological version’, click here

To read ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

A Hand Held

Some years ago, whilst out on a walk, one of my children announced that they were lost. This was on account of said child not having a clue as to where they were. But the individual in question was wrong – they weren’t lost because the one who held their hand, [me], knew exactly where they were.

I knew the way home.

Perhaps you can’t see a way through all that’s going on just now. But be assured – you’re not lost because the one who holds your hand knows exactly where you are and, even in these particularly difficult days, that same loving Heavenly Father will ensure that we will all eventually make it safely home.

The one who really does know the end from the beginning holds us still.

‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ [Isaiah 46:9-10]


Related posts:

To read, ‘A Promise Keeper’, click here

To read, ‘Jesus wept’, click here

To read, ‘Light in the Darkness’ click here

To read, ‘Real Power’, click here

To read, ‘Weeping with those who weep’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read, ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone – extended theological version’, click here

To read ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

To read, ‘True Love?’, click here

To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it just rhubarb?’, click here

To read, ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘Hope Comes From Believing The Promises Of God’, click here

To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here

To read “Good Friday – 2021”, click here

To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here

The Promise Keeper

‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

So said Lord Acton and there is no doubt some truth in his words. But it’s not just those who, for example, have at their disposal the second largest military in the world who need to be careful – we all are sometimes prone to abuse the power we have even if that which we posses is considerably smaller. Likewise, though few of us will have reneged on assurances given that we would not invade a neighbouring country or failed to keep to previously agreed humanitarian ceasefires, we too are not always as good as we should be at keeping our promises. Perhaps then it is no surprise that lately we have grown all too accustomed to those in authority breaking their promises and we could, perhaps, be forgiven for wondering if we should ever trust anyone who holds a position of power.

I am confident though that there is at least one who we can take at his word.

God is working his purposes out as year succeeds to year – including this year, irrespective of how abnormal and unexpected the world is in increasingly becoming.

God frequently works outside expected norms. What could be more unexpected, what could be more abnormal, than his saving of wretched sinners through the death of his son on a cruel Roman cross?

But Christ crucified, though it appears, on the face of it, to be foolishness, it is in fact the power of God and the wisdom of God. [1 Corinthians 1:14). We need to remember that we are surprised by God only to the extent that we have a wrong idea of who he is. The problem lies with us. It is we who are abnormal, we who are, because of our sinfulness, prone to act in ways contrary to how we should.

We too easily forget about grace and mercy. God never surprises himself by the way he acts. Thousands of years before it happened the death of the Messiah was prophesied as the means by which he would one day save sinners.

That a gracious and merciful God should keep his promises should not be something that surprises us. Even so, there will be those who will ask, ‘What evidence is there that God will, in the future, deliver on all the promises he has made in the past? How can we be sure?’

This is a valid question and one that is important for us to be able to answer since it asks why we should have faith in God. Christian faith is all about believing that what God says is true, trusting that, however improbable it may sometimes seem, God is in control and what he says will happen will one day come to pass. If we cannot answer how we can be sure that he will keep his promises, ours is a blind faith, one that is not based on solid foundations.

Peter urges us to be ‘prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]’ [1 Peter 3:15]. Since ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ [Hebrews 11:1], if we are to have any assurance at all, it is important that we have solid reasons for our faith especially when what we can see seems only to be that things are going badly wrong.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my reasons why we can trust God.

1. Past record. When God has made promises in the past he has kept them. He promised as far back as the garden of Eden that one day a Messiah would come who would bruise Satan’s head even as his own heel was bruised [Genesis 3:15]. This promise was kept in the coming of Jesus Christ. And throughout the Old Testament there are countless other promises made in the form of prophecies about Jesus. These include that he would be born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem, that he would be betrayed by a friend and sold for thirty pieces of silver, that he would be struck and spat upon, pierced through the hands, feet and side, that not one of his bones would be broken, that lots would be cast for his clothing and that he would be resurrected on the third day. The fact that all these promises were kept assures us that we have good reason to believe that we can trust that God will keep all of his many other promises.

2. God’s nature. Because God is by nature good and true, it is impossible to think of anything more certain than his word. It is not possible for the God who defines what is true to lie, or the God who defines what is good to break a promise. ‘For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’ [Hebrews 6:13-19a]

3. God is omnipotent, all powerful, and as such, unlike us he never makes a promise he is unable to fulfil because of any limitation in himself. The answer to the rhetorical question of Genesis 18:14, ‘Is anything too hard for the LORD?’ is a categorical No!’. Likewise God is omniscient, all knowing, and so, unlike us, he never makes a promise without fully appreciating all that there is to know and thus is never surprised by circumstances which might prevent him acting in the way he has said he will.

4. God is God and there is no other, He is God and there is is none like him. He declares ‘the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ [Isaiah 46:10]. There is therefore a sense in which, when he makes a promise, God is declaring what will one day be and, since he says these things from the position of someone who already knows all that the future holds, his promises are utterly dependable.

5. God’s word creates what it commands. His word is powerful. When God said ‘Let there be light’ there was light. He spoke and what he spoke came into existence. When Jesus said to the storm ‘Be still’ the storm was stilled, when he said to Lazarus, ‘Come out’ the dead man came out. Creation has no option to obey what God demands. If God speaks it happens, therefore if God speaks his words are bound to come true.

6. Ultimately we can trust God’s promises because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. For ‘he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’ [Romans 8:32]. The God who can raise from the dead the one whom he sent to die for us is revealed to be a powerful God of love, one who can be trusted to fulfil all the wonderful promises he has made to us because he is good enough and strong enough to do so. All God’s promises ‘find their “Yes” in Jesus Christ’ [1 Corinthians 1:20]. His promises are therefore sure for ‘the word of God is not bound’ [2 Timothy 2:8], not even by any limitations in ourselves for even ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.’ [2 Timothy 2:13].

There are no doubt many other evidences that our God will deliver on his promises but these are at least a few that can give us great confidence, even in a time of war, that he will not fail to bring about what he says he will.

We can indeed look forward with eager expectation to the time when the great promise of the gospel will be fulfilled. As the old hymn puts it well, ‘God is working his purposes out as year succeeds to year’, and were we to sing it now we could do so confidently for, since it is based on another of God’s promises [Habakkuk 2:14]. For it is undoubtedly true that ‘nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.’

Personally I can’t wait.


Related Posts:

To read ‘A Hand Held’, click here

To read, ‘Jesus wept’, click here

To read, ‘Light in the Darkness’ click here

To read, ‘Real Power’, click here

To read, ‘Weeping with those who weep’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read, ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone – extended theological version’, click here

To read ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

To read, ‘True Love?’, click here

To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it just rhubarb?’, click here

To read, ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘Hope Comes From Believing The Promises Of God’, click here

To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here

To read “Good Friday – 2021”, click here

To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here

Jesus wept

In the face of death, and in the midst of sadness, ‘Jesus wept’.

John 11:35 is famous for being the shortest verse in the Bible and yet the two words ‘Jesus wept’ contain so much that is helpful as daily we hear of far too many who are suffering so badly. Here are just three things we can learn.

1. Jesus is somebody who cares. He wept not only for the death of his friend Lazarus but also as a result of the sadness his loss had caused all those who loved him.

Jesus weeps with those who weep’ [Romans 12:15]. It’s good to know that our God is not a remote deity who lacks compassion but rather one who is a loving Heavenly Father who comes alongside us in our sadness, one who shares in our sorrow. I believe Jesus still weeps today. Whilst it may be that, in this time of war, he knows a particular grief for the people of Ukraine, Jesus’ tears remain every bit as much for all those who, regardless of where they find themselves, know what it is to experience deep sadness.

They are not a sign of his being weak. Rather they are a sign of the strength of his love.

2. And neither are our tears a sign of our being weak. Jesus’ tears reassure us that it’s right for us to weep, that real tears are an appropriate response to real sadness, that Christianity isn’t a religion of the stiff upper lip in which grief is dismissed with insensitive assertions that ‘all things work together for good’ [Romans 8:28] even though that remains gloriously true for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul writes to his readers in order that they ‘may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’ With these words he makes it clear that we should indeed grieve but that we should remain hopeful even as we do so.

As Jesus stood outside the tomb in which Lazarus lay, his tears were no less real for knowing that he would soon raise his friend back to life. He still grieved – but not as one who had no hope. As the conflict in the Ukraine continues and the death toll climbs we too should weep, but we too can do so in hope, confident that there are better days ahead.

3. Jesus’ tears didn’t stop him loving those for whom he wept. As Jesus wept, not only did he know that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, he also knew that he too would himself soon die too. And he knew that his raising of Lazarus from the dead would be the act which would provoke those who opposed him so vehemently to start making their plans to put him to death. [John 11:53].

Their hardness of heart must surely have saddened Jesus further, adding to his tears. Even so, he didn’t flinch from his purpose, the reason for which he came into the world. Such is the strength of the man who was, and is, God, that he set his face towards Calvary in order that he might bear the punishment for our sin. For there on the cross, dying in our place, he dealt with the horror of sin and thereby secured our salvation and guaranteed that, in time, all death and all sadness would one day be brought to an end.

‘The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ [1 Timothy 1:15].

Jesus knew that the cost of raising Lazarus to life would be his own death. But it wasn’t just the cost of raising Lazarus to life that was paid for on the day that Jesus was crucified. Jesus’ death was the price that was paid to guarantee our resurrection too.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” [John 11:25]. This is wonderfully true, and it is believing this that will enable us to grieve hopefully, sustaining us, not only when those we love die but as we approach our own death too.

Regardless then of how we die, whether it be at the hand of a microbe or a man, whether it be the result of old age or an accident, the consequence of conflict or cancer, there will still be a place for tears – our own, those who love us and, if John 11:35 teaches us anything, those of Jesus too.

But those tears will come to an end – because Jesus wept that we might know eternal joy, because he died that we might have everlasting life.

Until then, however, we cannot allow ourselves to either wallow in our tears or be content that they are in themselves enough. Rather our sadness for the plight of others must motivate us to act, we must seek to do that to which we are called, namely to love our neighbour as ourselves.

The task is, of course, too great for any of us and at times we will no doubt find ourselves simply overwhelmed by the needs of others. But there is no shame in being asked for more than you have and only being able to give all that you can. As those pictures of pushchairs left for Ukrainian refugees at a Polish railway station remind us, though it’s unlikely that any of us will change the world today, we can still make a world of difference to somebody who needs our help whether they be Ukrainian or someone we know who is closer to home.

No act of kindness then is too small to be of value. Let’s not imagine otherwise. And let’s continue to cry out to the one whose help we all so baldly need, to the God who is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think [Ephesians 3:20].

And let us take some comfort from the fact that, when it feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, it is God who still holds the whole world in his hands.


The title image uses a photo of a piece of street art seen on a street in Cardiff.


Related Posts:

To read, ‘Light in the Darkness’ click here

To read, ‘Real Power’, click here

To read, ‘Weeping with those who weep’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read, ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone – extended theological version’, click here

To read ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

To read, ‘True Love?’, click here

To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it just rhubarb?’, click here

To read, ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘Hope Comes From Believing The Promises Of God’, click here

To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here

To read “Good Friday – 2021”, click here

To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here

Light in the Darkness

One evening this week we had a power cut. The lights went out and we were left in darkness. We hunted down a candle and lit it and, as the darkness immediately shrunk back from around it’s flickering flame, I was reminded once again of how differently light and darkness behave.

I love how, whilst darkness is dispelled by the switching on of a light, the opposite is not true – the light can’t be dispelled by the switching on of the dark. Though darkness may surround the light, the light is never snuffed out. Darkness, on the other hand, retreats from wherever the light shines.

Light always triumphs over darkness.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ [John 1:5]

I think the same is true for love and hate. No matter how intense the hatred, love always triumphs over it. Though it is true that hatred may not simply flee from love in the way that darkness flees from light, and though hate may actually intensify its efforts in the face of love’s persistence, we can nonetheless remain confident that, come what may, love will always win.

Because love never dies.

Except perhaps once.
When the Light was put out and darkness was over the whole land [Mark 15:33].
But even then, love didn’t stay dead.

The power came back on.

‘God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’ [Acts 2:24].

No matter how dark it is today, there are brighter days ahead.


Related posts:

To read, ‘True Love?’, click here

To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it just rhubarb?’, click here

To read, ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read, ‘Hope Comes From Believing The Promises Of God’, click here

To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here

To read “Good Friday – 2021”, click here

To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here

real power

Amongst the many ways we can, and must, respond to the war in Ukraine, there is one we cannot afford to neglect. Irrespective of how long we might spend worrying about what Putin might do, we need to spend still more time considering what God might do – and, indeed, what he has already done. If we fail to do so we are liable to find our souls downcast, overwhelmed by fear and devoid of hope.

For we make a mistake if we imagine that it is Putin who has the power to ultimately determine the future.

Make no mistake, regardless of the forces that may be at his disposal, the one whose actions are motivated by hate is not strong. On the contrary, such a one is weak – pathetically so. It is those whose actions are motivated by love that are strong.

Shortly before he practiced what he preached, Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ [John 15:13].

Already this past week, out of love for their country, their people and their families, too many have already made this ultimate sacrifice. They deserve our utmost respect and, those whom they loved and who now find themselves left behind, our utmost, support – tangible as well as emotional, practical as well as prayerful. Nonetheless, as we join those who mourn their loss, we can still hope in the infinite power of God, the greater power of his love and the paradoxical yet everlasting power of the cross.

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.’

[Psalm 43:5]


Related posts

To read, ‘Weeping with those who weep’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here

To read ‘Covid -19. Does it suggest we really did have the experience but miss the meaning?’, click here. This is a slightly adapted version of “T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’.

To read, ‘But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope’, click here

To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here

To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here

To read “Good Friday – 2021”, click here

To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here

To read “True Love?”, click here

Weeping with those who weep

Sometimes the fun stops and life seems nothing short of impossible.

So this week, hoping, in part, to find some respite from the dreadful news by which we are all currently being bombarded, I went to see ‘The Duke’, the new film starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. It tells the true story of Kempton Bunton, the 60 year old taxi driver who, in 1961, stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. And what a wonderful escape it proved to be. Well almost – for, without spoiling anything for those yet to see it, the film didn’t entirely cause me to forget the events that, as I sat there in the darkness, tragically continued to unfold back outside in the real world. But although it didn’t go unnoticed, it wasn’t simply that the film portrayed a seemingly insignificant individual taking on the might of the establishment that got me thinking. What stood out for me was a single line of dialogue. From memory, it went something like this:

‘It’s hard to find an audience for plays that deal with grief’

The thing with grief is that too often we don’t want to hear about it. Sometimes, perhaps, we find it embarrassing, the awkwardness of not knowing what to say too uncomfortable. On other occasions it’s simply too painful to acknowledge just how awful things really are and we prefer instead to pretend that everything is totally fine and that the fun never stops. This is, to say the least, unfortunate because, for those who grieve, there is often a need to express the sadness that they are experiencing, to have it heard, and felt, by another. For those who mourn, to have their grief felt by someone other than themselves, reassures them that their pain is real, that their loss is important, that the events they have experienced matter, not just to them but also to the wider world.

But to express one’s sadness isn’t merely helpful for the one who grieves. To see the grief of another and share a little in their sadness helps we who, perhaps shedding a tear ourselves, are drawn a little closer to the one who suffers, making a connection with the one who grieves, a connection that, too often in this frequently contactless world, we fail to make. And this indication that we truly care is not only a sign of love, it is an act of love too – one that begins to change us inwardly such that we don’t simply feel the pain of another but are motivated to actually try and do something to help, something practical that might just make a difference.

This week then, perhaps more than ever before, we need to be an audience that deals with grief – the grief of others. We need to ‘weep with those who weep’ [Romans 12:15]. Rather than hiding away from what pains us, we need to expose ourselves to the genuinely awful reality of what pains others. We need to connect with those to whom we will never be introduced and allow ourselves to be moved to help, in whatever way we can, those who currently find themselves in such dire need. Ultimately it is that which will reveal us to be truly human, it is that which will ultimately distinguish us from those who, having no regard for others, are willing to destroy all that is beautiful, in pursuit of their own ugly agenda.

When life is nothing short of impossible, we need to somehow find the strength to carry on. When the fun stops, we must not. Because not everyone can escape from what they are currently being bombarded by – not, at least, by simply taking a trip to the cinema.

Our tears, of course, are not enough – they are but the start. It has been said that saving another’s life is rarely like it is in the movies, that rather than it being by pulling someone from a burning building, it can sometimes be achieved by a few kind words of support, a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Well I don’t doubt that that is true, but right now those things won’t be enough for the people of Ukraine. They need more, much more. More even than the money and essential items that are so wonderfully and so generously being donated by so many. Though we must all continue to show love and kindness by giving what we can, right now our fellow Europeans need someone who really can pull people out of burning buildings. More than even that, far too many already need someone who can raise them from the dead.

I believe there is such a one.

So, for the time being, even as we seek to love those we have never met and show kindness to those we do not know, as well as thus standing with the people of Ukraine, we will weep with them too – our own desperate and bitter tears. But as we grieve, I believe we need not do so as those who have no hope [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. For, because of Jesus Christ, the one who, having risen from the dead himself, really can raise others, because of the one who, sooner or later, we all will one day need, we can be confident that, though weeping may tarry for the night time, joy comes with the morning [Psalm 30:5]. Rest assured, a time is most surely on its way when all that now troubles us, both far away and closer to home, will be over – a day when our mourning will have turned to dancing, [Psalm 30:11], a day when we will rejoice with those who rejoice [Romans 12:15], and a day when every tear will have been wiped from our eyes and death shall be no more. [Revelation 21:4].

Oh that we might soon awake and salute that happy morn.


Here’s a link to another hymn I’ve been listening to of late. Perhaps you’ll find it as helpful to listen to its words as I have.


Related posts:

To read, ‘Light in the Darkness’ click here

To read, ‘Real Power’, click here

To read, ‘But this I know’, click here

To read, ‘A Promise Keeper’, click here

To read, ‘Jesus wept’, click here

To read ‘A Hand Held’, click here

To read, ‘Contactless’, click here

To read, ‘Hearing the grass grow’, click here

To read, ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here

To read, ‘General Practice – a sweet sorrow’, click here

To read, ‘On not remotely caring’, click here

To read ‘Vaccinating to remain susceptible, click here

To read, ‘From a distance’, click here

To read, ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone – extended theological version’, click here

To read ‘Rest assured’, click here

To read ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here

To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.

To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here

To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here