November 16, 2019

War, Peace, Brexit, and Control

Who’s in control?

Although my parents have often shared memories of living as young children in Birmingham, England, during World War II, my generation has little idea of how terrifying at times the years between 1939 and 1945 must have been. To say that all wars are terrible is an understatement. Still, this war (involving much of the world) was against the fascist dictator Adolf Hitler and his allies, who believed, among other things, in the superiority of one race over another. Hitler had to be stopped in his bid to destroy the freedoms for which, today, we don’t give a second thought.

It is understandable, then, that the post-war years saw European leaders come together with the best of intents to ensure that this evil should never happen again. In simple terms, they believed that political and economic security would best be secured through what was known in the mid-1970s as the Common Market. For seventy-five years, Europe has been at peace, notwithstanding the genocide in the Balkans during the 1990s. In European history — compile a list of its wars — it’s a long period. On the other hand, seventy-five years of peace is, in reality, a very short time.

However, forces were at work, particularly in France, Germany, and the Benelux countries, to create a pathway toward a federalist political union. Due to the disillusionment of people toward the European political elites, however, this ambition seems to have passed its peak. Nowhere was this more resisted than in Britain, resulting in Brexit. Be assured, my aim here is not to give an opinion about the merits of “Leave” or “Remain” but to try to explain its significance through the lens of the prophetic word.

The Role of Biblical Prophecy

Adventists believe that, while apocalyptic Scripture should (where applicable) first be applied to the era in which it is given, it also has the function of “seeing” far into the future. The prophecies are unconditional, meaning they will happen regardless of human choices, with God revealing the rise and fall of empires from prophet Daniel’s day to the end of time. It is a method of interpretation called historicism, used by both the early church fathers and the Reformers (Adult Bible Study Guide, Daniel [Jan-Mar 2020], p. 10). 

We should note that in recent times, historicism has been significantly challenged. Sure, it has both strengths and weaknesses, but, when compared to other, more contemporary interpretive methods, it still stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Of particular interest in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as revealed to Daniel, are the feet partly of iron and partly of clay (Daniel 2:41-43), representing the disintegration of the Roman Empire from AD 476 onward. The chief characteristics of Europe since that time have been “division and disunity,” which “will remain so until God establishes the eternal kingdom” (ibid., p. 26). Who has not seen the Adventist evangelist race through his slides with unapologetic enthusiasm to demonstrate that Europe has never been united in its history? To the screen come the pictures of European royalty, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler, and the European Union headquarters in Brussels as symbols of futile attempts to unite the nations of Europe.

What Should We Make of Brexit?

And then there is the new symbol — Brexit. What could be clearer at face value? Trying to keep the current European Union family together, to speak as one, sharing common values, keeping right and left together, surely provides a clear-as-crystal contemporary picture of a Europe more divided than united.

While it is natural and understandable that we show how Brexit continues to affirm the prophetic word (particularly Daniel 2), at the same time, the European and global political climate surrounding it has gotten considerably darker. My natural instinct is to unequivocally affirm Brexit as the “working” or “leading” of the Lord, in His sovereign wisdom over and above the affairs of men. However, due to the premise on which the Brexit case was partially built, in my mind, there’s a titanic contradiction between what I ought to feel about this story (prophecy affirmed) and what I actually know and feel, based on what I believe about Christ and the values of His kingdom.

The Brexit case was made partly on the premise that it is the “others” (migrants) who are the source of British woes. Over the past two decades, Europe has taken in millions of migrants. Most entered legally, but many others illegally, resulting in a magnitude of fears and threats. The popular narrative was that they were the “people to be feared,” a story regularly rehearsed in some parts of both the popular and the broadsheet press. Accompanying this was the rise of extreme nationalistic tendencies in many European nations, both inside and outside the European Union, resembling the atmosphere in some parts of Europe during the 1930s. Amazing, and particularly sobering, is the attitude of some today toward the Jewish community (from both the political left and right).

The Values of Jesus’ Kingdom

And Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-20, ESV).

It’s those words of Jesus that muted the Brexit story for me from a biblical perspective. The two just didn’t seem to connect. Reassuring is the reality that not only did Jesus read Daniel, but He is at its heart, just as the prophecies of Revelation are His story.

Who’s in control? As I reflect on what I’ve shared, it’s perhaps not as triumphalist as some readers would hope, and I understand that — but without a doubt, I believe that the Lord is in control. From January to March 2020, Adventist church members from around the world return to the book of Daniel for our daily Bible study. For today, I end by answering the question I first asked: “Who is in control?”

Where Our Security Lies

Perhaps the teachable point for me in all this is that my faith in God is not so much in the interpretation of “the events” that happen, as affirming as they might be, but in the stone that Daniel saw, cut without human hands, breaking into pieces “the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold” (Daniel 2:35, ESV). Understanding the iron-and-clay mix has significance, but the big picture is the stone — a reminder of Christ, the cornerstone of our salvation, as recorded in Ephesians 2:20-22; and, likewise, the Lamb in Revelation — sacrificed for us. That is where our real security lies.

“Although ‘to the unaided human eye, human history may appear to be a chaotic interplay of forces and counterforces . . . Daniel assures us that behind all of this stands God, looking down upon it and moving within it to achieve what He sees best’” (ibid., p. 28).

Helping our conviction about this are Daniel’s own words: “The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure” (Daniel 2:45, ESV).

The original version of this story appeared in the November 8, 2019, edition of the British Union Conference Messenger, and was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.