As the world continues to reel from England’s decision to leave the European Union, news agencies are reporting that more and more British citizens are reeling too, including those who voted in favor of “Brexit.” It seems that many never expected that their nation would actually act on their votes. They wanted to protest something. They felt angry about something. But now that their votes have been counted and recognized, they are horrified by the consequences. They don’t actually want what they said they wanted; they just wanted to vent.
Does anybody else find this terrifying? I’m not talking about the financial implications of the Brexit, which I am not qualified to assess. But I’m talking about their reaction to something that they chose. It seems to me that more and more people are focusing entirely on how they feel in the moment, never thinking of the consequences of acting on those emotions. For example, spiritual leaders have been preaching against LGBTQ people for years. Is it really surprising then that they have become targets of violence? No. It is heartbreaking, devastating and profoundly wrong on multiple levels. But it’s not surprising. Likewise it’s not surprising that violence and racism are on the rise when high profile political leaders are rewarded for using hateful, racist rhetoric, and every means they can to promote fear. These horrible consequences are entirely predictable. So why is everyone acting so surprised and victimized? We have chosen this, allowed it, caused it.
I am increasingly frustrated and saddened by the fact that as a culture, we seem to be becoming more and more like the person who spilled hot coffee in his lap and then sued the restaurant for making its hot coffee hot. Instead of focusing on facts and reason as well as feelings and venting, and neighbor as well as self, instead of accepting responsibility for the fact that all our actions have obvious, logical consequences, we are behaving like little children who do not know any better. But the consequences of our actions are not that we are now wet from going outside without raincoats, or are going to bed hungry because we refused to eat the healthy dinner that was put before us. The consequences are life and death. What is it going to take for us to learn?
I’m guessing that God is asking this question too because the Bible tells us that God is way too familiar with this behavior. It’s been humanity’s pattern since humanity was created. “But I didn’t know eating the fruit would do that!” Adam and Eve said. “But I didn’t know that if I melted down the people’s gold into a mold of a calf, it would produce a golden calf we would worship!” Aaron told Moses. Most of the Old Testament is about God trying to teach God’s people how to live in a way that will bring them joy, love, peace and prosperity, and the people not listening. Finally God has to do what every good parenting book recommends. “Let them learn from the consequences” God says. “You have sown the wind, now you will reap the whirlwind.” (Hos. 7a). But even the painful lesson of the Exile lost its persuasive power after a while. So Christ came into the world to show the people how to live himself. But we still didn’t listen. Instead some of us got caught up in feeling angry or frustrated or threatened or uncertain, and crucified him. Now, even the cautionary and powerful lessons of the cross have worn off the majority, lessons about human beings’ inclination toward violence, injustice, jealousy, and power-mongering, lessons about our vulnerability to being manipulated by fear.
Christians believe that through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we have now been spared the worst consequence of our poor choices and our sinful behavior. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even our own attempts to do just that with our bad choices. This is a blessing greater than we can even imagine. But that doesn’t change the fact that we haven’t yet learned from Christ’s teachings how to avoid horrible consequences in the first place, by living according to his ways of grace and love. We haven’t learned to do half of the things Jesus’ advocated in his Sermon on the Mount yet, and the state of our world shows it.
Years ago there was a T.V. show hosted by Bob Barker called “Truth or Consequences.” Contestants were asked to answer a difficult question. If they could not state the “truth,” then they had to face the consequences, which were usually delivered in the form of making them do an embarrassing, crazy stunt. But sometimes the consequences were good, like being reunited with a family member who had been serving in the military overseas. I don’t know if the contestants knew that good consequences were an option. But I do know that Barker ended each show with the phrase, “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”
It’s time for us to stop “hoping” for happy consequences. It’s time for us to cause them by thoughtfully and intentionally choosing to focus on and state the Truth that Jesus Christ embodied, rather than focusing on and proclaiming our anger and fear. That Truth says that God loves all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, gender, education or economic status; therefore we must challenge anyone who says otherwise because that person is not preaching the Gospel, he or she is contributing to hate crime. That Truth says that we are called to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to love our enemies, not to arm ourselves against our neighbors, retaliate against strangers when we are feeling angry, frustrated or scared, or circle the wagons when we see people lost and in need. Christ’s Truth says that if we follow his way, the Spirit will sow within us “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Gal. 5:22-23), which is better than the whirlwind any day.
It is absurd and foolish to vote for an issue or a political leader and then disavow the consequences of that vote. It’s also naïve to think that the only way we vote is this life is with ballots. We vote with our silence, we vote with our complicity, we vote with every choice we make. I pray that our world will learn from the difficult and painful lesson of the Brexit, as well as the current state of violence and divisiveness in our world, that we must anticipate the consequences before we act, for all our sakes, and then choose to act with understanding, mercy and love.