11 November 2019 | Grantham, UK
Pastor David Neal, editor of the British Union Messenger, reflects on war, peace, Brexit, and control. This piece first appeared in the 8 November editon of Messenger.
Who’s in control?
Although my parents have often shared memories of living as young children in Birmingham during World War 2, my generation has little idea of how terrifying at times the years between 1939 and 1945 must have been. To say that all wars are terrible is an understatement, but this war (involving much of the world) was against the fascist dictator Adolf Hitler and his allies, who believed, among other things, in the superiority of one race over another. Hitler had to be stopped in his bid to destroy the freedoms which today we give not a second thought.
It is understandable, then, that the post-war years saw European leaders come together with the best of intents to ensure that this evil should never happen again. In simple terms they believed that political and economic security would best be secured through what was known in the mid-1970s as the ‘Common Market’. For seventy-five years Europe has been at peace, notwithstanding the genocide in the Balkans during the 1990s. In European history – compile a list of its wars – it’s long. On the other hand, seventy-five years of peace is in reality a very short time.
However, forces were at work, particularly in France, Germany and the Benelux countries, to create a pathway towards a federalist political union. Due to the disillusionment of people towards the European political elites, this ambition seems to have passed its peak. Nowhere was this more resisted than in Britain, resulting in Brexit. Be assured, the aim of this editorial is not to give an opinion about the merits of ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’, but to try to explain its significance through the lens of the prophetic word.
Adventists believe that, while apocalyptic Scripture should (where applicable) first be applied to the era in which it is given, it also has the function of ‘seeing’ far into the future. The prophecies are unconditional, meaning they will happen regardless of human choices, with God revealing the rise and fall of empires from Daniel’s day to the end of time. It is a method of interpretation called ‘historicism’, used by both the early church fathers and the reformers.1 We should note that in recent times historicism has been significantly challenged. Sure, it has both strengths and weaknesses, but, when compared to other, more contemporary interpretive methods, it still stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.
Of particular interest in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as revealed to Daniel, are the feet partly of iron and partly of clay (Daniel 2:41-43), representing the disintegration of the Roman Empire from AD 476 onwards. The chief characteristics of Europe since this time have been ‘division and disunity’, which ‘will remain so until God establishes the eternal kingdom’.2 Who has not seen the Adventist evangelist race through his slides with unapologetic enthusiasm to demonstrate that Europe has never been united in its history? To the screen come the pictures of European royalty, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler, and the EU HQ in Brussels as symbols of futile attempts to unite the nations of Europe.
And then there is the new symbol – Brexit. What could be clearer at face value? Trying to keep the current EU family together, to speak as one, sharing common values, keeping right and left together, surely provides a clear-as-crystal contemporary picture of a Europe more divided than united?
While it is natural and understandable that we show how Brexit continues to affirm the prophetic word (particularly Daniel 2), at the same time, the European and global political climate surrounding it has got considerably darker. My natural instinct is to unequivocally affirm Brexit as the ‘working’ or ‘leading’ of the Lord, in His sovereign wisdom over and above the affairs of men. However, due to the premise on which the Brexit case was partially built, in my mind, there’s a titanic contradiction between what I ought to feel about this story (prophecy affirmed), and what I actually know and feel, based on what I believe about Christ and the values of His kingdom.
The Brexit case was made partly on the premise that it is the ‘others’ (migrants) who are the source of our woes. Over the last two decades, Europe has taken in millions of migrants. Most entered legally, but many others illegally, resulting in a magnitude of fears and threats. The popular narrative was that they were the ‘people to be feared’, a story regularly rehearsed in some parts of both the popular and the broadsheet press. Accompanying this was the rise of extreme nationalistic tendencies in many European nations, both inside and outside the EU, resembling the atmosphere in some parts of Europe during the 1930s. Amazing, and particularly sobering, is the attitude of some today towards the Jewish community (from both the political left and right).
And Jesus said:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Luke 4:18-20 (ESV).
It’s those words of Jesus that muted the Brexit story for me from a biblical perspective. The two just didn’t seem to connect. Reassuring is the reality that not only did Jesus read Daniel, but He is at its heart, just as the prophecies of Revelation are His story.
Who’s in control? As I reflect on what I’ve shared, it’s perhaps not as triumphalist as some readers would hope, and I understand that – but without a doubt I believe that the Lord is in control. From January to March we’ll all be returning to the book of Daniel for our daily Bible study. For today, I end by answering the question I first asked: ‘Who is in control?’
Perhaps the teachable point for me in all this is that my faith in God is not so much in the interpretation of ‘the events’ that happen, as affirming as they might be, but in the stone that Daniel saw, cut without human hands, breaking into pieces ‘the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold’ (Daniel 2:35, ESV). Understanding the iron-and-clay mix has significance, but the big picture is the stone – a reminder of Christ, the cornerstone of our salvation, as recorded in Ephesians 2:20-22; and, likewise, the Lamb in Revelation – sacrificed for us. That is where our real security lies.
‘Although “to the unaided human eye, human history may appear to be a chaotic interplay of forces and counterforces . . . Daniel assures us that behind all of this stands God, looking down upon it and moving within it to achieve what He sees best.” ’3
Helping our conviction about this are Daniel’s own words: ‘The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure’ (Daniel 2:45, ESV).
To this matter we will no doubt return.
1Adult Bible Study Guide, first quarter 2020 – ‘Daniel’, p. 10
2Ibid., p. 26 3Ibid., p. 28, quoting William H. Shea, Daniel: A reader’s guide (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2005), p. 98
For more, listen to David Neal discuss with Richard Daly about how a former Stanborough Press editor predicted in 1940 that Hitler would be defeated.
tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, editor; Deana Stojković, associate editor
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