As I sat on the tube on Monday morning, I became aware that I was being bombarded with moral Imperatives: Be Kind, Be Considerate, Show Respect, Get Fit, Slow Down. Advertising revenue is obviously down on Transport for London (TFL) so they have taken it upon themselves, along with the Mayor of London, to educate us Londoners. There are posters everywhere giving us moral instruction.
My initial response was that it is another example of the infantilization of society. Treating adults like they are nursery children: play nice, don’t jump the queue, don’t run in corridors. The authorities have taken it upon themselves to tell us how to live, down to even the smallest details. There’s over reach like we’ve seen in other areas over the last year and people often seem to like it.
Of course the problem with moral imperatives is that we think we can do them, when in reality we can’t. I’ve never met anyone who would admit they are unkind, disrespectful and inconsiderate. We view ourselves through rose tinted spectacles.
And yet the commands of TFL – Be Kind, Be Considerate – can crush us. In the middle of rush hour (if that ever returns), commanding people to do something without giving them the power or ability to do so, is terribly guilt inducing. It also leads to the questions of what is kind, what is considerate? Who makes that call? The Mayor of London?!? Hopefully not.
The biblical worldview of course is different; the imperatives of commands are based on the indicatives of God. The 10 Commandments begin: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the House of slavery…You shall have no other Gods before me” Exodus 20:1. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). The commands of Galatians 4 rise out of the Gospel that Paul has proclaimed in Galatians 1-3.
I’m sure the intent of TFL and the Mayor of London are well meant. Yet they don’t even begin to address the heart of the problems in the city.
I was feeling thoroughly grumpy at being told how to behave, and yet for the Christian there is encouragement here in these posters. There is a longing for the gospel that you can hear if you listen carefully enough. Our culture is wanting the fruits of Christianity: kindness, goodness, respect. It doesn’t realise that what it is longing for can only be found in the message of God reconciled to man through Jesus Christ, and human beings reconciled to one another through the Gospel. TFL and the Mayor don’t even realise it, but they are asking the Church to show them Jesus and his work. Can you hear the echoes of them saying “Sir we wish to see Jesus”? (John 12:21)