This week has seen vitriolic exchanges almost unique in the life of the British people. As feelings ran high, words like liar, fascist, racist and Nazi were thrown around with uncharacteristic hatred. And now it’s all over, what, I wonder, have our children and young people taken from the angry rhetoric?
The answer may well be fear. Not in the sense of Project Fear – attempts on both sides of the referendum debate to frighten us with statistics that couldn’t be based on anything other than conjecture. But young people live in a fearful world, to which the behaviour of many adults around them has probably contributed in the last couple of weeks. The global reach of terrorism caused devastation in Orlando. Our TV screens carry news of beheadings, war and pictures of countless rivers of people made homeless and stateless by war. A much loved and respected MP was murdered in the heart of her constituency in the middle of the day. Many young people across all faiths are scared to discuss belief through fear of being misunderstood or of becoming the latest target of bullying.
Add to that fear of cyberbullying, fear of exam failure, fear of not getting into the best university or securing that lucrative career, and you have an explosive mix. For some, a fragile, recovering economy holds no promise of sustainable training or employment. And for many more, family breakdown means moving home, losing friends and living with fractured relationships between the people who once committed to love them, and each other, above everything. Is it any wonder that a tsunami of mental and emotional illness is sweeping away the hope of our young people?
Into this seemingly bottomless well of fear, God offers hope. The prophet Jeremiah was given a message for his people at one of the darkest times of their nation’s history. The brightest and best of their people had been rounded up and taken off to live in exile in Babylon. A puppet King had been put in place to rule over them, and before leaving their country, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had plundered their wealth and ransacked their Temple, symbol of God’s relationship with his people. Things couldn’t really get any worse. But God told Jeremiah to say, ‘For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
Through Jeremiah, God offered his people an invitation to worship Him and trust Him as their God. He had plans for them which offered hope not harm, and a future, not fear. And that message is still the same today. Hope is the central message of Christian education and of Christian teachers. Our children and young people don’t need to fear the work of terrorists, or the future state of the economy, or even the outcome of the referendum, because the love of God offers us hope.
Take the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans into your teaching this week: ‘Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13 NIV). And may that hope, love and peace flow out into your classrooms so that others can see that you live in hope, not fear.