Those who have had the unfortunate experience of hearing me rant on about social policy will know that I love Sweden. It is my dream land of the model welfare state where everything is free and equal and democratic. It is a land of free education and healthcare and childcare, of 13 months parental leave, of generous pensions and of Ikea! Well, I am actually here! I have spent the last two, very full days touring social programs within Stockholm. So, do I still believe it to be a dream land? Yes and no. It is all that you read about, though the locals tell me some changes are on the way which makes me quite sad. But the reality has some unexpected side effects that I had not considered until now. Three things stand out.
1. No matter how good the system is, people still have problems! I have visited drug and alcohol facilities, homeless programs, domestic violence shelters, education facilities and family centers and I realise that no matter where you are or what you do, people still seem to find a way to need help from Frälsnings Armen (The Salvation Army). I like to think there are ways we can prevent people from breaking their lives. I know that there are, and I know it is our duty to try. But there may be some that still get trapped in the evil of this world and will need literal and spiritual salvation. So while I admire the social democratic welfare state, I am reminded that salvation lies not in a political regime, but in Jesus.
2. It seems that when the government is generous with its provisions, people inevitably rely on the government as their major source of support. For many salvationists, this leads to a feeling of complacency about our social mission on earth. There is a general feeling and expectation that everything should be free. Because of this, people tend to be a little slack in raising money for additional needs, or in volunteering to help fill the gaps of provision. When the government is generous, we become stingy. There are many things the government should provide for its citizens through the taxes of those who are privileged to hold a job. However, in addition to this, it is all our responsibility to tithe, to give in self-denial, to offer care and love and support within our social services and corps. The government, no matter how wonderfully socialist in endeavour, does not take the place of our Christian mission.
3. It seems an odd phenomena, but when people have it so good, they sometimes get depressed! Did you know that Sweden has one of the highest suicide rates in the world? They have arguably the best political and social system, and yet their people are still fatally unhappy! Why? Not sure. One theory is the lack of sunlight. But a more realistic theory is that people lose the value of their life when it is so easily attained and supported. Essentially the argument is that satisfaction comes when you have earned your security as opposed to being looked after by others without a challenge in sight. When hard times do come, people are lost and are unable to cope with the unexpected pressure and they give up. I´m not sure I agree with either theory, but I do know that everywhere I go I meet people that are searching for fullness. That fullness doesn't come from money, or food, or health or education.
So in your thoughts for justice this week, please consider the ultimate meaning of life and look to find a way to offer that to others. We need a social revolution, of course. But additionally, we need to remember to offer the broken world all that they need, and not just all that they think they want.
Have a great week. More blogging thoughts next week...from New York!