In May 1940 Britain faced the greatest threat to its existence that it had ever faced. Alone against a German army which had swept all before it, it seemed almost inevitable that Britain would have to surrender or be invaded. And so the King called for a national day of prayer on 26th May. In the next five years there would be another six national days of prayer, supported by all classes, in all areas of the country.
The Pathe news commentary of the time is instructive: “It is well for us to show the world that we still believe in divine guidance, in the laws of Christianity. May we find inspiration and faith from this solemn day”. Ps 124 was sung in churches throughout the land: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”.
Can you imagine the same happening today? After all, we are facing arguably the greatest crisis since the Second World War. Uncertainty in and about Europe, a coming global economic crisis, a bitterly divided USA and constant strife and uncertainty at home. Why not have a national day of prayer? I can already hear the scorn, mockery and abuse that will flow on various secularist social media sites. After all, we have changed, we are multi-faith, a grown-up mature society, no longer a Christian country – secular. What kind of extremist idiot would be calling for such a nonsensical thing?!
Barack Obama for one. The President of the USA called for a National Day of Prayer to be held in the US, a constitutionally secular country, on the first Thursday in May every year. The UK parliament still begins with prayer every single day it sits and while the Scottish parliament does not, there are groups who regularly pray with and for our politicians.
There is another reason for this. The whole question of sovereignty. We used to be told by our politicians in Scotland that sovereignty lay with the Scottish people. Government by the people, for the people. There were those who argued that in a UK sense sovereignty lay not with the sovereign Queen but in the representative parliament of Westminster. One of the reasons for the Brexit vote, indeed, the number one reason according to research, was the fear that the sovereignty of Parliament and of the people was being taken away by the European parliaments and courts. In an ironic twist, when the English High Court ruled that parliament should determine when Brexit should begin, those who argued for parliamentary sovereignty complained, whilst those who want to hand parliamentary sovereignty over to Europe rejoiced! Those who previously complained about unelected Lords and the interference of Supreme Court judges are now relying on them. But who has the sovereignty? The people? Parliament? The Queen? The House of Lords? The Supreme Court? The European Court?
What if the answer is: none of them?
The old British (unwritten) constitution understood that any sovereignty of King, parliament or courts was a delegated authority. The only supreme sovereign was God. It was recognised that any attempt to usurp the authority of God would result in tyranny. This did not mean the British state was a theocracy – indeed, it prevented the state from becoming that. State officials were always servants, who swore by a higher authority. There was recognition of a supreme and ultimate authority.
Of course, there are those who dispute that. But what is their workable alternative? What are they going to replace the traditional Christian constitution of the UK with? An Absolute Supreme Court filled with unelected elitist judges who not only interpret the law but also, in effect, make it? An autocracy where the “right sort of people, with the right sort of opinions”, govern the rest of us plebes? Or, as our American cousins would put it, one nation under God?
It is because God is sovereign that we need to plead with him. Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, concluded about his own country: “Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough. A turning to and seeking of God is needed.”
In today’s Scotland it is unlikely the Scottish Parliament will call for a day of prayer. This year the Free Church was joined by other Christians to hold St Andrews Day as a national Day of Prayer. Perhaps next year they will be joined by politicians?
Some ask, what good would it do? To which the response is, what harm could it do? No-one is being compelled to pray. As the 26 May National Day of Prayer was taking place, 355,000 British troops were trapped in Dunkirk. After the day of prayer Hitler ordered the tanks to be stopped and the “miracle” of Dunkirk occurred. Coincidence? We could do with a lot more ‘coincidences’ like that in Scotland today. Try praying... David Robertson, Solas CPC