I had some quite frightening personal experience of the riots on Monday and Tuesday night. I was due to be working night shifts on intensive care and was asked to help out with the hospital's Major Incident Control team. We were informed by the police that there was some talk on Twitter that the looters were planning to "hit the hospital" as it stands opposite the city's police station. So we had to put the hospital onto lockdown (literally locking all doors) and watch and wait as a couple of hundred youths milled around the hospital wrecking things.
Many of the nation's population are of the fervent opinion these are mindless criminals and deserve to behind bars. Maybe that is true - and something for the courts and the judges to decide. But watching the news, I felt a slightly different view;
"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now ... For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are" - (Romans 8:19)
While watching on TV - and actually looking into the faces of these hooded young people - I felt nothing but sympathy and empathy with them. They are angry! They are frustrated! They are bored! Do they need a water cannon to beat them back (as some bloggers have suggested)? Do they need a jail sentence to further cement their anger against society?
Or is there an alternative?
To my mind and un-trained theological understanding - this verse in Romans speaks directly to the situation we are facing today here in the United Kingdom. I saw groaning and suffering in the face of these looters. If they had a preferable future to work towards, they would not be willing to throw their lives and futures away for the sake of a few iPods and laptops and trainers. They would have hope! Not in a human government but a glorious God who is out-lived and out-worked in a glorious Church. The manifest sons of God - walking in the manifest Presence of a heavenly Father who loves them. A church who regularly demonstrates the outbreaking of heaving in a time-space world through signs and wonders and miracles - healing the sick, mending the broken-hearted, reaching the poor.
The world has been waiting and it is getting tired of waiting. It sees a church that gets involved in petty squabbles. In authoritarian leaders who feel it is okay to abuse their followers. In hypocrisy. In sexual and financial misdemenours. In pride and arrogance. The world is tired of waiting and it is getting impatient! And this impatience (I think) is expressing itself through violence. British justice will lock these youths up if they find them. But will that solve the issue? Locking them away for a few months/years? They will have spent that time with fellow criminals and will emerge back into society possibly more angry and more resentful than ever before.
My heart aches for the unveiling of the sons of God. That finally these youths would see a church not to be ashamed of but to be proud of, intrigued by, broken by. One of my favourite pasttimes is to visit Soul Survivor (a youth conference in Somerset that I went to twice in my youth) and I think is doing a great work. It never fails to move me to tears to see the leadership issue a call to salvation and see hundreds of young people come forward in response! Surely we should be seeing that but more - time after time - city after city across the nation! Am I excusing their sin and misdeeds? No - but I AM stating all this was covered at the Cross of Christ and it is time the church demonstrated the glorious freedom of that.