reasonable bus journeys

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I recently attended some training for trustees and one statement took me back many years to when I did a Law Degree. The trainer said that trustees of a charity have to act reasonably. And I was reminded of just how much ‘reasonableness’ is embedded in English Law.

In Law there are many occasions when the standard of behaviour is judged by the ‘reasonableness test’. The standard for that was originally defined as “the man on the Clapham omnibus” and this was first used in a 1903 libel case. This person was deemed to be an ordinary, everyday, reasonably intelligent, reasonably educated person – against whose presumed action or behaviour the actions of a defendant would be judged.

There have been a lot of amendments to this: you don’t judge whether a surgeon has acted reasonably by the standard of the man on the Clapham omnibus, but by the actions of his peers. You don’t assess whether a soldier has acted reasonably under fire by the standard of the man sitting safely on the Clapham omnibus but by the actions of soldiers in similar circumstances.

But the reminder about the ‘reasonableness’ test got me thinking (after the training had finished, I did listen to it all – honest!). Do we judge other people by our own standard of reasonableness? Do we think that if we would not have reacted in a certain way then nobody else ought to? Or if we would have done something then it’s reasonable to assume that everyone else should do so too? I think we often do, and that’s not, erm, reasonable.

It’s unfair because our expectations of ourselves are often unrealistic. We imagine how we would have reacted to something when we might, in the event of it happening, react very differently. I imagine that if there was someone getting ready to fire a gun at someone I would heroically jump in front of them, but the reality might well be very different. And it’s also unfair because if we make assumptions about how other people ought to behave without telling them what we’re expecting then we are setting them up for a fall. There have been times when someone has been unwell in the churches I serve and they (reasonably) expect that their Minister (aka me) would check to see how they are and perhaps come and see them. But if nobody has told me that the person is unwell, it’s not fair to expect me to get in contact and get huffy when I don’t.

It’s heresy time again, folks, so get ready with those virtual stones…

God is not reasonable. By that I mean that he doesn’t treat us in the way that we deserve, he responds to us with grace. He doesn’t limit himself to our low expectations he is generous. He doesn’t just want to be friends with the nice people in the world, he wants all of us to know him. He doesn’t conform to our expectations, he exists well outside the box and thinks well beyond the blue sky! He is extraordinarily unreasonable! If you doubt that, read one of the Gospels and look at Jesus. He was SO unreasonable it was brilliant – going out of his way to mix with the wrong people, breaking the religious rules that were like a straightjacket on people and loving in a self-sacrificial way that has never been seen before or since.

And I am so glad he is unreasonable. Because he can cope with my unreasonable behaviour, whether or not I am sitting on a Clapham omnibus!

Be blessed, be a blessing