It is tempting to move to the rivers of Babylon, sit down and weep. Boris Johnson said he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than request another extension to EU captivity, but having lost another parliamentary vote he has obeyed the (letter of the) law and sent the letter mandated by Parliament requesting precisely that. We may still get Brexit by October 31st (which is Reformation Day throughout Europe), but it is looking increasingly unlikely. But even if the date of Brexit is postponed again, the UK is definitely leaving the EU: it is just a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
Nothing worthwhile is easy. Throughout the 1960s UK politicians were convinced that our national future, even destiny, lay “in Europe”, and so they laboured and schemed for months and years, only to be vetoed by Charles de Gaulle in 1963. And so they redoubled their labours and schemed even harder, only to be vetoed by de Gaulle again in 1967. It wasn’t until 1973 that the UK finally acceded to the EEC – a full decade after the first veto – which trial and tribulation undoubtedly made the final consummation all the sweeter.
There is bitterness in disappointment, frustration in failure, and desperation in loss. The Psalmist understood distress, not only in physical captivity by the rivers of Babylon, but in spiritual captivity to a sinful heart. But among all the lamentations and invocations there is a golden thread of trust and deliverance; of confidence and hope. The temptation is to pray for vengeance on one’s enemies; that those who frustrate God’s purposes might be shamed and consumed, scorned and disgraced. And there’s a lot of that around at the moment, especially on Twitter: ‘How long, O Lord, must we suffer these lying traitors, poisonous snakes and Tory scum?’ The God-foresaken are despised: the enemies are in the bedroom.
And the Psalmist so often stands alone, seemingly representative of the oppressed and persecuted of the nation. But the oppression isn’t necessarily caused by an invader: those who whet their tongues like swords and aim bitter words like arrows are often within; they dwell among us:
Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him:
But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.
We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company (Ps 55:11-14).
And so we see in Parliament that those who seek to honour the result of the 2016 EU Referendum sit alongside those who seek to frustrate Brexit: democracy meets anti-democracy; faithfulness encounters duplicity; loyalty faces dishonesty. And Job’s well-meaning comforters whisper their dogmas of suffering as punitive and purgative into the nation’s ears: you Brexiteers get what you deserve; you worms and maggots have brought all this on yourselves.
It might be a great burden to bear, but no-one who fights for freedom believes cheap assurances of imminence or expects easy vindication. ‘You shall not pass through’ will be a cause of defeat and despair, and you may very well want to sit down by the river and weep over Edom’s treachery. And you may be tempted to cry ‘Tear it down! Tear it down to its foundations!’ because doom and destruction is surely the message from the Lord.
No, there is a more excellent way.
Watch and pray; be patient and faithful; persevere in hope. And do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.