These photographs show some of the decaying remains of the Adamant Cement Works jetty, on the south bank of the Humber estuary. It closed in 1926 and ever since its constituent atoms have been slowly dispersed into the surrounding environment as wind, rain, tides, sun, ice and biology take their inevitable toll on the structure. Whereas many biological systems have the inherent capacity to repair and renew themselves, our built structures do not. Without maintenance and given enough time, nature will inevitably bring to dust even our most pristine creation.
Ideas can erode and weather too. Without maintenance and attention they will fall into disrepair. Some become superceded by better and more effective concepts, others fall out of fashion. Progress and changing tastes render them redundant and surplus to requirements. Like the jetty they are left to rot in the seldom visited backwaters and byways of the intellectual history of human imagination.
In his poem, 'The Chapel', RS Thomas captured something of this process as it applied to a particular expression of Christianity in his native Wales:
A little aside from the main road
becalmed in a last-century greyness
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass
But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire,
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
The idea that God is Love is utterly resistant to the ravages of time. Wrathful, vengeful, capricious, exclusive notions of God have come and gone, have been expressed, sometimes violently, and then subsequently been eroded to dust by the necessary, needful and irresistible forces of compassion within the human soul. Theology changes and evolves as once proud and powerful notions lose spiritual traction, grind to a halt and rot in situ. Throughout history, ineffective, outmoded and failing expressions of God's love have and will inevitably settle a little deeper into the grass of contemporary life and thought. Time ravages them. But once, perhaps, they were fresh, new and exciting too. The Bible knows this and is up front about it..
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3.1)
That God is Love is always relevant is an essential given in the time ravaged, contemporary blur of our human existence. What matters is what we do about it and with it. Surely that is and should always be provisional, contextual and time-bounded, itself shaped by our response to God's intention? Otherwise the time will come when the chapel settles a little deeper in the grass, and the world passes by unheeding and not-needing. More important still is that God is not an idea or a construct, but a truth which comes alive as we relate to and encounter God's presence. In Jesus we see this happening face to face, a truth that time will never ravage.