I am writing this on the eve of Canada Day. Prince William and his bride Kate have just completed the first day of their highly-anticipated visit to our land. Here in the nation’s capital, the Canada Day crowds are expected to be much larger than usual. Many people are eagerly looking forward to getting a glimpse of the newly married royal couple. In part, I believe, that’s because William and Kate represent the hope of a new beginning for the royal family which has seen such turmoil ever since Charles and Diana’s marriage began to come apart.
Tomorrow’s Canada Day festivities will be a chance for Canadians to show our affection not just for the royal couple, but also for our country. Our Prime Minister has taken to sometimes ending speeches with the words “God bless Canada”. Just as most Canadians seem to genuinely wish this young couple well and want their marriage to work out, so most also genuinely want our nation of Canada to be a happy, successful, blessed land.
Though many may think of God’s blessing as something akin to good luck — you either have it or you don’t, but you can’t do much about it — the Bible does not support this view. The blessing or favour of God is sovereign — that is, we can’t control it, we can only receive it as a gift — but it is not random or arbitrary. God’s word makes it very clear that the choices we make, as individuals and as a nation, have everything to do with the extent to which we experience the blessing of God.
Several weeks ago, a team of young runners set out on the One Nation Run, a cross-Canada campaign to raise awareness and funds towards the elimination of child poverty in Canada. By all accounts, the run is going well. The runners are encouraged, support is growing, and donations are coming in.
Like any physical exercise, running is exhilarating, but it’s also hard work, requiring a considerable amount of self-discipline. Why do they make the effort? They are inspired by a vision of a more just and compassionate society. These young runners are devoting their time and energy to promoting a Biblical value – they are speaking up for the weakest and most vulnerable in our land. They are depending on God for their strength, and I believe their righteous cause attracts his favour.
In total contrast to this purposeful and selfless activity stands the chaotic and senseless behaviour of the violent, alcohol-fuelled mob that torched vehicles and looted businesses in the streets of Vancouver a few weeks ago after the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. These events prompted much agonizing and soul-searching, everyone wondering aloud what makes people behave in such a destructive, senseless manner. I mean, aren’t Canadians basically good, decent people? Other nations might be perverse, greedy and selfish – but not us. Canadians are good – right?
In the aftermath of the riots, I found myself disturbed by the many expressions of anger and even hatred towards the rioters. The parents of Nathan Kotylak, the young water polo player who was suspended from the national team for his part in the riots, found it necessary to leave their home and shut down their business temporarily as a result of the many threatening and abusive messages they received. This was in spite of the fact that their son publicly confessed his part in the mob activity and openly acknowledged how wrong his actions had been.
Why were people so angry with the rioters? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the rioters’ behaviour was right — far from it. I’m just saying that most Canadians are living under the illusion that we are basically good people and that Canada is basically a good country, populated by good, decent people like us. The riots totally violate this illusion, so to reinforce our false image of ourselves as a good nation populated by good people, we portray the rioters as perverse exceptions to the essential goodness of the Canadian (or Vancouverite) character.
The Bible paints a very different picture of human nature. It’s not a popular view these days, even among Christians – but the Bible clearly portrays human nature as thoroughly corrupted by sin, and says that until we are born again and our hearts are restored, we are not capable of being good. We can only consistently produce the fruit of righteous behaviour by the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, the instruction of the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The Vancouver riots shouldn’t surprise us. They are the inevitable outworking of a society that has – for the most part – turned its back on God. Conscience has to be shaped, and in the absence of a relationship with Jesus, one’s conscience will inevitably reflect a mixture of truth and falsehood. I have atheist friends who maintain that they can be good without God. I maintain that whatever goodness and idealism they display comes mostly from being raised in a culture that is based on Biblical values, whether they realize it or not. To take just one example, whereas those raised in a Biblical value system place a high priority on truthfulness, there are belief systems (including Islam, although it’s not politically correct to say so) in which deception is seen as acceptable and even admirable. My point is that the farther our culture gets from God, the more it seems natural to us to do and approve those things that the Bible calls evil. But since we still have some sense of right and wrong, and we don’t want to think of ourselves as unrighteous, we are quick to condemn those – like the Vancouver rioters – who do things that even our weakened consciences can recognize as evil.
On the stones of the Peace Tower three verses of Scripture are inscribed. One of the verses, Proverbs 29:18, declares: where there is no vision, the people perish. Another translation puts it like this: where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint. The rioters on the streets of Vancouver found it relatively easy to cast off restraint because they are the products of a society that has chosen to ignore the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. By contrast, the runners in One Nation Run – as well as all others who have chosen to live as disciples of Jesus – have a vision and a revelation to live by. Because Jesus has opened their eyes and brought them from death to life, they have the power to resist evil and let His light shine through their lives (Philippians 2:14-16, Matthew 5:13-16)
So, what kind of country do we want to live in? Do we want to be part of a nation that has cast off all restraint, where everyone does as he sees fit? Many would say this is freedom, but the Bible declares that in fact it is bondage. Or, do we want to live as citizens of a different Kingdom – the heavenly Kingdom that is coming to earth – in which Jesus rules and his Spirit instructs our hearts in His ways?
I know what kind of country I want to live in, and which Kingdom I want to belong to. Do you?