At the launch of a new book by Australian political commentator, Paul Kelly, Triumph and Demise, Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, commented:
“Paul suggests that the relentless negativity of our contemporary conversation, the culture of entitlement that he thinks has sprung up over the last decade or so, means that good government has become difficult, perhaps impossible…”
Reporting the launch in The Australian last month, Rosie Lewis noted, ‘Mr Abbott said his government’s challenge was to “lift ourselves” so that the nation could see the political system at its best.’
It is not my purpose here to discuss the merits or otherwise of Paul Kelly’s remarks, nor the Prime Minister’s response. What I do want to focus on is Kelly’s phrase, ‘the relentless negativity of our contemporary conversation…’ For what may or may not be true of the Australian political scene, is certainly true of the ‘contemporary conversation’ about religion, especially about Christianity, where there is a ‘relentless negativity’.
We see it in the media and on the street. An important part in communicating God’s good news is to be aware of the negativity and to take on the challenge to “lift ourselves”, to use Tony Abbott’s words, so that people everywhere can see Christianity at its best.
Let’s encourage one another to practise Paul the Apostle’s words:
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone (Colossians 4:5-6).
Paul’s advice to the Colossians has two parts – life-style and speech. We are all obliged to act wisely and graciously towards people we live and work with. So, if you hold a position of responsibility, ensure that no one can accuse you of unfairness, exploitation or harshness.
Blaise Pascal in his Pensées, wrote, ‘Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show them that it is.’
Furthermore, we are all obliged to answer questions people have about matters of faith. We are to cultivate conversations that are kind and gracious, yet seasoned with salt. ‘Salt’ implies sparkling and interesting conversations that can open up opportunities to discuss the gospel.
Questions. Paul anticipates we will encounter people who have genuine questions about the faith. In our day, the questions may relate to differences between Christianity and, say, Islam. It’s helpful to show others the clear differences between Mohammed and Jesus. The former led an army of 10,000 against Mecca; and in 637, after two years of raids in the countryside, his followers laid a siege against Jerusalem, starving its population into surrender.
Jesus spoke of his kingdom being not of this world (John 18:36). He neither took up the sword of battle nor called for an army. Rather, he allowed the power of Rome to put him to death. Yet, through it he won the greatest victory of all, for through it he conquered once and for all the power of sin and death. His resurrection from the dead guarantees it.
In this age of negativity, let’s heed Jesus’ words,
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).