I have been reflecting recently on a paradox. The two nations that we tend to identify as ‘super powers’ (the USA and Russia) both have avowedly Christian leaders and their power is supported, to a significant degree, by those who claim, explicitly, to be Christian citizens. However, in each case, both the leaders and their supporters have adopted what appear increasingly nationalistic and protectionist ideologies and practices which seem inimical to Gospel imperatives.
Further, in each case, such developments run counter to the best expressions of (successively) Evangelical and Orthodox spirituality. Here are two examples. The great revival preacher, George Whitefield, once said: ‘He that every day heartily intercedes at the throne of grace for all mankind cannot but be filled with love and charity towards all. The frequent exercise of love in this manner, will insensibly enlarge your heart, and make you a partaker of that exceeding abundance, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!’ Isaac the Syrian adds, in answer to the question of what is a pure heart, ‘It is a heart that, like God, is moved by a boundless feeling of mercy for all of creation’. Similar quotes could be found in all the best teachers within the two Christian traditions.
Interestingly, both traditions also stress that an over-emphasis upon the individual in spirituality is hedonistic, self-referential yet often the practice of the spiritual life looks very different! Is the paradox, then, a reflection of a failure in discipleship, an absence of prayer – a spirituality in which God is not known in the heart?