The words “do not be afraid” appear twice in Matthew’s account of Easter. First an angel materialises outside Jesus’s empty tomb and appeals to the visiting women for calm. Later, Jesus appears before his disciplines with the very same instruction. It is both a kindness – reassuring the believers – and a commandment. A consistent message of the Bible is that fear is unnecessary. Faith defeats it.
Sometimes, faith is hard to maintain. The past few weeks have witnessed so many horrors. The rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria was the target of a chemical weapon attack by its own government. Four pedestrians and a policeman were killed by a terrorist in Westminster; another four died in a similar assault in Stockholm. Passengers were blown apart on the St Petersburg Metro. Dozens of Copts were butchered in attacks on Palm Sunday. The world is slowly becoming aware of the particular brutality shown towards Christians. Recently it was claimed that two women died after a hunger strike in Eritrea in a protest at the oppression of their faith. Their bodies allegedly showed signs of sexual assault.
There are an estimated 300,000 Christians in North Korea, which is ranked as the worst country in the world for religious persecution. Kim Jong-un’s regime is thoroughly disgusting. Dissent is crushed; the poor go hungry. That alone is reason for the West to despise and isolate the government – but its threat to construct a serious nuclear weapons programme also demands that we confront it. The West’s promotion of human rights and its strong military posture thus go hand-in-hand. Dictators who murder their citizens tend also to pick fights with other nations.
On Easter Sunday, the message goes out from the churches of Britain: do not fear, for there is hope in the world and hope conquers all.
The West did not start this latest round of sabre-rattling. North Korea has been carrying out provocative nuclear tests for over a decade, even to the frustration of its Chinese guardian. Donald Trump has taken a tough stand that reflects a U-turn in his own foreign policy. The former non-interventionist has turned up the heat in Afghanistan and Yemen, and attacked a Syrian airfield with Tomahawks. The goal in Syria and North Korea is probably to internationalise a local conflict – to force Russia and China either to drop or to control their clients. This is brinkmanship, for sure. But where did Barack Obama’s prevarication leave the world after eight years? North Korea’s weapons programme has clearly advanced to a dangerous level. Bashar al-Assad has nearly won his bloody civil war.
Writing for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson argues that Russia should compromise in the Middle East by committing itself to the international anti-terrorist coalition and accepting a process by which Assad leaves power. One thing that is striking about Mr Johnson’s philosophy is his firm faith in the Western way of life: he is right that its freedoms are best protected by vigilance. There is no guarantee of safety, of course: lone-wolf terrorists have proven how vulnerable we are. But a resolute position against aggressive powers, good intelligence-gathering, proportionate anti-terror laws and – crucially – a strong and modern defence can make all the difference.
Self-confidence is important, too. It was rather comforting to see the Prime Minister marshalling an Easter charity race on Good Friday in a hi-vis jacket. It was a quintessentially British scene.
This country is a major power but also happily parochial. Some seem to see a tension in that – but it is a paradox the nation has lived with for a very long time. Britain is both the town and the country; the financial and the industrial; the international and the local. It is a monarchy where a vicar’s daughter can rise to the highest position in Her Majesty’s government, and where the Opposition is led by another grammar school success story.
Not everyone has a faith in God to guide them through tough times, but there is a secular faith in the British way that can act as a compass. The country has always been drawn to the very best of human values. Its history has blemishes, but nowhere has a greater effort been made to atone for them. There are few countries that could claim to be so peaceful, wealthy or tolerant. Be this down to some genius of the British character or hard work, it leaves the nation in a position of profound responsibility. It also leaves it with the spiritual reserves – the courage – necessary to face an uncertain future.
God instructs Abraham not to be afraid in Genesis. Moses repeats the words in Exodus. The Archangel Gabriel delivers the order to Mary. And Jesus, when he has risen from the dead, is quick to reassure his friends that there is no cause to panic. On Easter Sunday, the message goes out from the churches of Britain: do not fear, for there is hope in the world and hope conquers all.
We wish our readers and their families a very happy Easter.