What links: famine in Somalia, youth unemployment, and slavery in the British town of Leighton Buzzard?
No, this is not part of the Round Britain Quiz. These are three issues that have been featured in the news recently.
Indeed, they have no causal link that I know of. But their common theme is clear. They all relate to human flourishing, and to what happens when this is stunted or starved.
Somalia, apart from its natural disadvantages in periodically turning into a dustbowl, has suffered from being a pawn in the West’s war on terror.
Its lawlessness and the xenophobia of its rulers – such as they are – has been fostered by Washington’s poor decisions and made it infinitely harder to feed its starving population.
These children of God, created in his image, who could be doctors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, joyful celebrators of life, are faced with nothing but a miserable trek along the way to dusty death.
In Britain, things are not nearly as bleak. But it’s all relative. We are hard-wired for justice, and if we see others with what we cannot have ourselves, there had better be a good reason for it.
What reason can we give the teenager who left school two years ago and has no prospect of work? Or the graduate who left university with debts, a degree but no job?
It will hardly do to say that at least they are not starving, when they looked forward to a life of challenge and adventure, or at least satisfying work.
The macro-economic prospects for our country are terrifyingly bad. Why is it that the thousands of wasted lives, all of them small tragedies, fail to add up to a cause for national grief?
“Green Acres” sounds delightful. But it is the name of a caravan park near Leighton Buzzard where 24 malnourished “slaves” were overworked, underfed, threatened and beaten, some for as long as 15 years.
Why, it was asked, didn’t they just run away or go to the police? This is Britain, after all.
Some did, it transpires. But even after their rescue, some refused to cooperate with the authorities.
Their slavery was not just physical; it was mental and emotional. They had become people who no longer wanted to be free; whose horizons were so limited and desires so basic that they were no longer able to want more from their lives.
Here, then, is the link: that it is possible to chain people in their heads, and those chains are as effective as any made of steel. But it’s risky.
Sooner or later, they will realize that they were created for more. Then there is a revolution, a spring, a riot, a release.
The Bible has much to say about freedom. A core text in the Old Testament is the exodus; not the flight away from Egypt, but the journey to the Promised Land. The story of God’s people thereafter is the struggle to use their freedom well.
The central fact of the New Testament is the crucifixion, and the defeat of all the powers that chain human beings to what is destructive, negative and limiting.
We Christians try, in our slow, stumbling way, to make this new life real in our churches and in ourselves.
Isn’t it true, though, that when we look at the world around us, we’re like short-sighted people who’ve forgotten to put their glasses on?
We look, but do not see. The constant stream of news runs by our noses at such a speed that we don’t stop to put it in a biblical context. Our minds are shaped by our newspapers, not by the gospel.
So how about this for a lens: what does what we see and hear have to say to us about human flourishing?
Does this invasion, that smart bomb, this economic sanction, enable human beings – and let us leave aside their color, creed or the political decisions of their country’s leaders – to be happier, healthier, wiser, more loving and more generous?
If it does not, let it be anathema to us.
Mark Woods is a Baptist minister and managing editor for ChristianToday.com. He served previously as the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain.