I sat in the seat once occupied by Sir Edward Grey this evening.
Edward Grey, in my reading of history, was a good man and a decent man. He served as British Foreign Secretary for eleven years, from 1905 until 1916. He served with Asquith and David Lloyd in a Liberal Government that brought great reforms and great improvements in the lives of ordinary people.
Had I been alive in such times, I think I would have been proud if I had ever met such a man.
There are times though, when being good is perhaps not enough.
Clive Ponting’s book “Thirteen Days” describes day by day and hour by hour the moments leading up to the outbreak of the First World War. It includes some extraordinary moments, like Asquith the Prime Minister sitting at the Cabinet table writing letters to his girlfriend. Letters written as his parliamentary colleagues pondered a crisis in Europe that would lead to the loss of millions of lives in war, and would lead to a post-war situation in Germany that gave rise to the Nazis, with all the hideous crimes they would perpetrate.
Grey was a good man in the story, but even he had his eccentricities. He spoke no foreign languages and would hold meetings with the French ambassador, who spoke no English. Europe was on a precipice and neither would admit the need for an interpreter. The French ambassador hated England so much that he took the train home to Paris every weekend.
Sitting there, I wondered about Sir Edward. If being good is not enough, then what else is required? Maybe Jesus understood when he talked about the need for people to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.