Building on the human spirit – sand or rock?
In accepting the leadership of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer said the pandemic had “brought out the resilience and human spirit in all of us” and he envisions a better society ‘built on that human spirit’. What is that spirit? Does it have anything better than those ‘British values’ which were compatible with creating a hostile environment for other human beings? How reliable is ‘human spirit’ – our spirit – as a ground for building a better society? It is a deep sort of complacency not to ask such questions.
A former Director of Public Prosecutions will know that this hope-carrying ‘human spirit’ does not get faithfully displayed in all human actions and relationships. It is good for a prosecutor or judge to know that even in the worst evil-doer he deals with, there is ‘human spirit’. Perhaps it is only a deeply hidden, systematically frustrated spark. But it is there to be valued and called forth, like dead Lazarus already stinking in his grave (John 11). A dimly burning wick is not to be quenched but fanned into flame (Isaiah 42.3). Quenching dimly burning wicks is a major industry in our culture, and raises questions about the ‘human spirit’ in all of us who share in making our culture. For example, do we tolerate, and even put hopeful trust, in a penal system that does much to stunt the ‘human spirit’ of all involved, including outside observers who ask for harsher punishments – for others?
Truth to tell, we all are but dimly burning wicks. If we think otherwise, as we are often tempted to do, we might do well to take Revelation 3.14-21 as a letter to us in Leeds today. It is from the Lord who is the Servant. His way was spelt out in Isaiah 42. 1ff. He will bring life-giving, life-enhancing justice to the nations, in gentle unflamboyant way, which we are called to learn under his guidance (Matthew 11.28-30 – not a recipe for ‘rest’ so much as yoked partnership on a hard road). All this the Servant is seeking to lead us into – and suffering contradiction.
Written by Haddon Willmer