These notes are from a talk by Duncan Forbes at the recent Reaching the Unreached [http://www.reachingtheunreached.org.uk/] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Duncan intended. Duncan grew up on an estate in south London and is now planting a church there.
Living on a council estate does my head in. It is hard to cope. It is not where I want to live. The most helpful doctrine to me in helping me live on my estate is the sovereignty of God. It is will help people continue living on your estate. It will help people continue in ministry in deprived areas.
Here is a council estate view of God, albeit a generalization:
God does exist, but he is not control of everything. God has a dealt me a set of cards and now it is my job to do the best I can with the set of cards he’s given me. I’m going to take care of number one and my family, because no-one else is going to care for me. Life is a big struggle. We are trying to take care of ourselves. But this is tough. We commit sins along the way. We need to protect ourselves so we have a vicious dog or carry a knife. We feel like a victim. We spend our life being aggressive towards injustice. ‘Are you going to take that?’ we ask each other. It sometimes leads to vigilante attacks because no-one else is going to establish justice. So we set ourselves up as God. We want to be the person in control. We want to be the provider, the judge, the avenger, the enforcer.
But the Bible teaches that God is in control. He is the Provider, the Judge, the Avenger, the Enforcer.
So we need to correct people’s view of God.
Here are some aspects of the sovereignty of God that are important to proclaim in deprived areas.
1. God is in charge
We know this, but we all act at times as if this is not true.
Consider Psalm 2. Other people think they are in charge (2). But God laughs at them (4). And God declares that he has installed his King (6). God is in charge. Jesus is installed at the right hand of the Father and he is running things.
Some people think the youth on their estate are in charge and they are afraid. Or people think the council or the police are in charge and it can make them feel unsettled. But the truth is that the estate is run by God. This is a great source of comfort for people.
‘The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King for ever.’ (Psalm 29:10) The pagan religions at the time thought the gods fought for control with the sea as the battleground and chaos as the result. But the Psalm asserts that Yahweh is the One in charge. On estates it can feel like different forces are battling for control and the result is chaos. But God is in charge.
This Psalm also recalls the creation of order out of chaos in Genesis 1, the renewal after the flood in Genesis 6-9 and the redemption through the sea in Exodus 14. And in Revelation 21 there is no more sea. Chaos is defeated.
Sometimes you go off the estate and have a good time, and when you return you have a sinking feeling because of the threat on the estate. So we need a constant reminder that God is in charge of our council estates.
2. God is in control of both good and bad things
We often think God is in charge of the good things, but God is charge of both good and bad things. ‘Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?’ (Lamentations 3:37-38) Both calamity and blessing come from the Lord (see also Job 1:12; 2:6). It is not only that God permits evil. ‘I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.’ (Isaiah 45:7) Yahweh creates ‘disaster’, a Hebrews word that is translated ‘evil,’ calamity,’ ‘disaster’ or ‘harm’.
On a council estate there is drama all over the place. People on the state live for drama’ It can feel like we live in an Eastenders script. People need to know that God is in control of the script. He is the calamity in our lives – the financial calamities, the crime we experience and so on.
Jesus holds everything together including the people who jumped me and beat me up. My teeth hurt to this day, but it is a comfort to realise that Jesus held those people together even as they punched me. And he is infinitely wise.
God is not evil. But he does create the disasters in our lives. Why does he do this? Why do we need to proclaim this to people in deprived areas?
1. It is better that God creates the disasters than someone else. You do not want Satan creating disaster in your life – he does not like you. You do not want other people doing it – they do not like you enough, they will be putting themselves first. You do not want to be creating your own disasters because no-one is big enough to control those disasters. There will always be a situation that you cannot handle. It is God who brings chaos and this is good news because God is able to control the chaos.
2. God creates disasters to make us more like Christ. Romans 8:28-29. ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.’ (Romans 8:28-29) (People often say that quoting this in times of crisis is callous, but please quote this to me because I need to hear it!) The good things and the bad things – the things that have caused me deep emotional turmoil – are all there to make me like Jesus.
This helps counter the typical council estate response which is to go into victim mode. If early on I can recognise that God has brought this into my life to make me like Jesus then I can avoid a victim mentality. And being like Jesus is more valuable than avoiding the disaster. Suddenly the Eastenders script of my life has meaning.
3. It is good that God creates disaster because it helps us forgive people. Humans are responsible for their actions and this is important to teach to people – otherwise people abdicate responsibility. But God uses the sinful actions of people – including the sinful actions done against us – for good.
‘Joseph said to [the brothers who had sold him into slavery], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.’ (Genesis 50:19-21) Many people on a council estate would not respond in the way Joseph does. Even if we did forgive people, we would not reassure them with kindness as he does. But Joseph avoided a victim mentality through his understanding of the sovereignty of God. He saw God’s purpose in his brothers’ cruelty so he could forgive his brothers.
Many of us on council estates have a chip on our shoulders. We become bitter and unforgiving. But if we can understand that God caused our calamity and he uses it to make us like Jesus then we will not be bitter or unforgiving.