The Iron Lady

Posted: February 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

What is it that makes a song, book or movie great? What, if any, common denominator exists between Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption? Well, I would suggest at least one thing… truth. Whether it’s a call for change, the pursuit of justice or the desire for redemption, good art seeks to express truth meaningfully.

Augustine once said that all truth is God’s truth. Which in part means that we will find it expressed not only in scripture but also in science, math and art. Now to be sure, scripture is inerrant and infallible when it comes to its revelation of the truth. But if we look carefully, a choose with discernment, we will begin to discover pieces of God’s truth being expressed in the books we read, the music we listen to and even the movies we watch.

Take for example Meryl Streep’s newest movie, The Iron Lady. Although I have yet to see it myself, here is what Carl Trueman took from it.

The greatness of the film lies not in its depiction of Mrs Thatcher’s life; indeed, it is not really a conventional biopic at all.  It lies rather in its portrait of the merciless cruelty of old age and the omnipresent tragedy of mortality that lies at the heart of the human condition.  Cutting back and forth between Thatcher’s political career and her current state of semi-senile dependency, the story is a melancholy one, made more so by the fact that the viewer knows that life, lived long enough, will bring such impotence to us all.

It does not matter that the film is somewhat fictionalised.  The scene where the Prime Minister orders the sinking of the Belgrano never happened; and Bruce Anderson made it clear in his otherwise glowing review of the film, that Lady Thatcher is not as senile as the film indicates.  The story of power stolen away by the mendacity of the passing years is true enough, for her as for those of us who in our own heydays have less power but still nonetheless lose what little we do have.

In this it reminded me once again of the danger of allowing the church to become preocuppied with youth.   There is much in the developing church culture which plays directly into the hands of the young: the celebrity culture with its cool aesthetics and hip sensibilities is one obvious example. Ever noticed how many 40 plus preachers these days have untucked shirts?   I have a sneaking suspicion that behind every untucked middle aged shirt lies an unchecked middle aged paunch. Yet there are more subtle ways that youth is exceptionally well-placed to hold inappropriate and disproportionate power.  Technology is the most obvious.  With a few exceptions, the masters of twitter, videocasts, and online marketing are the young and the hip.

So what is the problem with that?  Simply this: the reality of ageing.  Ageing brings whispers of mortality, of weakness, of limitations; and such whispers bring an ever-increasing sympathy with others.   Only the one who has felt the slow creep of weakness can truly sympathise with the weak.  Sure, some young people can do this; some young people, after all, have exceptional experiences which have exposed them to weakness early on; but society increasingly protects us all from facing the fact that we have limits and that life is in one sense a long day’s journey into night.

Elihu is the classic example of this problem.  He is the youngster near the end of the Book of Job who sits and listens to the pious claptrap of Job’s other friends until he can stand it no longer.  Then he bursts forth with a torrent of what would appear to be very sound and correct theology.  The problem is that, once he has finished, God himself makes an appearance and gives a speech, indicating that the correct statements of Elihu were not yet the final word.

Why does God speak?  If Elihu has said it all, why should the Almighty rouse himself in this way?   Commentators disagree on this, but I find myself increasingly attracted to the view that Elihu’s problem is not his theology; it is his complete lack of any human sympathy with Job in his agony.  And that, of course, is a young man’s error.  He knows the answers; his brains is quicker and sharper than his colleagues; but he has no understanding of what it is to suffer, to find that one has limits, to feel one’s power draining from one’s mind and body.  I suspect this is one reason why Paul describes elders in terms that would typically apply to older men: the church does not need leaders who feel strong; she needs leaders who know weakness.

The audience for The Iron Lady was an eclectic group.  There were a few youngsters who I hope were not there simply because they thought this was some right-on feminist sequel to Iron Man; but the rest of us were over forty.  Indeed, being only in our forties, myself and the other Mrs T who so shaped my youth were very much at the younger end of the spectrum.  That did not surprise. The Iron Lady‘s message, that strength fades and we all go gaga in the end, is not particularly marketable to young people.

Our era seems very much the moment when the young are about to inherit the Reformed earth.  We should rejoice at the new found enthusiasm among young people for solid doctrine.  But we should remember that those who are old did not become that way by choice, or because they were not cool enough or did not listen to the right bands.  No.  This relentless decline is the fallen human condition; and if the church is in large part here to teach people to die well, then she must have a leadership who understand the lessons so tenderly and painfully displayed in The Iron Lady; and, for all of our emphasis on doctrine, that is an understanding which transcends mere learning and stands as witness against the contemporary aesthetics of power and cool.

“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” – Psalm 71:17-18 ESV

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