Going underground

London Underground sign

From Kew Gardens to the Tower, from Baker Street to Elephant & Castle, from Wembley to London Bridge and from Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus; for millions of Londoners, the London Underground, or ‘the Tube’ as it’s more commonly known, is occasionally fast, sometimes noisy, often crowded and generally the most effective way of getting around the UK’s capital city. Exactly 150 years ago today on 9th January 1863, the first passenger journey on the world’s first underground railway took place. In those days it was known as the Metropolitan Railway. It ran from London’s Paddington railway station to Farringdon, a journey of three-and-a-half miles, and was hauled by a steam train.

The Metropolitan Railway Company had difficulty in proving to potential backers that the scheme was viable, not least because of negative stories in the press. ‘The Times’ newspaper, for instance, described the project as ‘an insult to common sense’. Others argued that passengers would be poisoned by the sulphurous smoke from the engines, and that the tunnels would collapse under the weight of the traffic above. Today however, London Underground has 270 stations and carries more than three million passengers a day.

The Metropolitan Railway’s detractors had no idea how popular the underground railway would become, but more pointedly they had no vision for anything but the status quo. Jesus faced the same problem. His coming had been prophesied hundreds of years before in the Jewish scriptures. Details like his birth at Bethlehem, his healing miracles and his suffering, death and resurrection were all foretold by the prophets. Yet when he began to teach and preach, privately declaring himself to be the long-awaited Messiah, the religious hierarchy didn’t recognise him. They weren’t prepared for something new. They were expecting a Messiah who would free them from Roman occupation not from personal wrongdoing; a Messiah who would come in power not in weakness; a Messiah who would come from God, not claim to be God. They couldn’t think outside the box.

Today that same Jesus, who turned the world upside down 2,000 years ago, is wanting to do the same with your life. He’s looking for people who see beyond the status quo, who will love the unlovely, who will go the extra mile, who will put him first and trust him for their future. As Rabbi Sha’ul once wrote: “I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus the Messiah took hold of me. … one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus the Messiah.” (Philippians 3:12-14 TNIV)

Don’t … Leave it out!

Train notice

The excellent BBC documentary The Tube showed the delays that can be caused by just one passenger obstructing the doors of  a London Underground train. While travelling on the London Underground this week, or the Tube as it’s more commonly known, I was reminded that the usual safety warning on the carriage doors has changed in recent years. It used to read, “Obstructing the doors causes delay and can be dangerous,” although often some wit had scratched out certain letters, leaving, instead of a safety warning, the self-defeating instruction: “Obstruct the doors, cause delay and anger us!”

Choosing certain letters and rejecting others reminds me of those who pick and choose which parts of God’s message, the Bible, they want to believe, as if they alone had authority to alter ancient scripture; with the eternal destination of millions hanging on what they feel like believing. Of course, it’s not wrong to question, but to have a serious opinion you need to check out the evidence for and against your point of view.

Today I came across a small pamphlet on a controversial subject. It was entitled: Hell. Suppose It’s True After All? The text described a conversation between two friends, who decided that hell is a myth, because a God of love wouldn’t condemn His creatures to everlasting punishment. Then after sitting silently for a moment, “one of them looked up and said … “Suppose it is true after all?”” Suppose that same God of love spoke about hell to warn His beloved creation that there is a hell to avoid? Suppose the very reason that that same God of love came to earth, taking on human form, was to provide a way of escape for all who aspire to a more positive, a more exciting, a more satisfying eternity? Many years before Jesus was born, God spoke through Moses: “Choose life, so that you and your children may live …” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Why does London Underground put warning notices on the doors of tube trains? Perhaps it’s because obstructing the doors causes delay and can be dangerous. Why did Jesus warn us about hell? Perhaps it’s because He loves us so much.