Later this afternoon at 3:00pm smartphones and tablets will make a loud siren sound as the British Government tests its new emergency alert service. You can get a preview of it online if you’re curious. I was curious and the alert siren does sound ‘annoying’ and urgent. It is a test this afternoon and so in this case you press ok and carry on whatever you were doing. That’s not what you’re supposed to do in an emergency! And consequently I did wonder if the test might just ever so subtly reinforce a response that is not desired in an emergency – do nothing and wait. But then you don’t want a real emergency either to test an alert system!
Many countries have national emergency alerts and having one here seems a no-brainer to respond to natural disasters, terror incidents, and other life threatening situations but its effectiveness will be based on such things as people’s view of the British Government itself and on whether people will overcome their own inertia because, despite a siren, people often look to what other people are doing in determining what they will do. (I read recently that when crying out for help to a crowd, there may be little response – it is hard to be first to act – but if the person in need calls out to a single person in the crowd – makes eye contact or something – and cries ‘help me’, there is more chance of help coming.)
I hope this afternoon’s test doesn’t cause too many unfortunate situations because of unexpected and unintended consequences. If you don’t want the siren to be heard, turn your device off just before 3:00pm! But, I think, the goal here – alerting to danger so that people can take action to be safe – is laudable. It relies on trust and confidence in the sender – the emergency services and the government – and emphasises to me how trust is the best way to bind people in any relationship – and the larger a diverse group (think a country) the more critical a basic level of trust becomes. In fact to think of it another way – if you trust anyone then you have a relationship of some sort with them.
What corrodes trust is selfishness, corruption, deceit and, of course, that leads to all sorts of behaviours which mean trust is betrayed or non-existent. Then we’re in conflict and survival, my group and others, and winners and losers – and so much stress and danger and fear! If only people would be trustworthy! If only …
I find it interesting that in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism about the Ten Commandments we learnt in the explanations, the opening phrase, ‘We are to fear and love God …’ which reminds us that God is not our ‘plaything’ and holy and also that he loves us – look to Jesus – but when Luther explained the First Commandment he added, ‘We are to fear and love and trust God above all things’.
Our Triune God is trustworthy despite being often accused of causing troubles, misery, and emergencies in the world and for many people. I can say that because the clearest picture of God for us is Jesus – and him on the cross! By the light of the empty tomb, we can see God’s forgiveness and grace and his promise and presence to be with us. His words, water, bread and wine are our constant emergency alert system against sin and evil – our behaviour and that of others – and comfort us with help and guide us ‘what to do next’. May we never turn off or turn away from or ignore God’s emergency alert system and live each day with a confidence of God’s love no matter what the day brings!