The Paradox of Remembrance

Remembrance Sunday is, for me, a paradox. Today we are reminded of the very best and the very worst of our human nature: the horrors of war and our human instinct for violence; and also our capacity for breathtaking acts of courage and self-sacrifice.

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Many Christians are tempted to dissolve this paradox by preferring one set of observations to the other. For some, the Christian call to forgiveness and peace takes precedence. They view war as a symptom of human sin that should never be honoured in church. For others, the Christian call to mutual love and self-sacrifice is answered by the courage of those who fought and died for their country, for our freedom, and it is this that holds the greater weight.

As Christians, we are familiar with paradox. The very nature of God is an example – three in one and one in three. These things remind us that our human capacity for understanding is no match for the reality of God.

So how are we to respond? I wonder if it might help to consider a parable.

Suppose a coach holiday to Paris were to be arranged. Fifty or so people pootled off to the French capital for a bit of a holiday. They went to many of the same places, saw many of the same sights, but they also had time to themselves and were able to follow their noses.

A good time was had by all, and it was only when they returned that the arguments began. The pictures they’d all taken on their phones were the point of contention. Which picture was ‘the real Paris’? Was it this one of the Eiffel Tower, or that one of the Sacré Coeur?

Those who were already pals had very similar shots – after all, they’d tended to stick together. Now they began to form into groups to argue against each other. How dare they say that a photograph of a thoroughly English bookshop, or a MacDonalds restaurant, was Paris?

The truth, of course, is that all of these pictures were Paris, and even when you put all them together you would have only an impression of what Paris actually is.

Arguments in church, arguments about God, are very often like this. Each of us, quite naturally, has a set of experiences and perspectives that are important to us in understanding who and what God is. That’s fine. What’s not fine is imagining that anything even a tiny bit different from that is wrong. What’s worse is making it an excuse for falling out and fighting.

The paradox of Remembrance Sunday, like other paradoxes of our faith, requires us to hold things that seem to be contradictory together, recognising the limitations of our human condition, and reaching towards the mysterious, ineffable, grace and mercy of God for help.

May God bless you all,