Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

When Silence Isn’t an Option October 31, 2012

I don’t usually use this space to comment on local issues, but something has come up here in Chattanooga that is a microcosm of the larger cultural fault-line of abortion.

This cartoon appeared in Sunday’s edition of our local newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Warning, this is (in my view) a very offensive image.

To be fair to the newspaper’s editorial staff, the local backdrop of this issue is the very unfortunate case of Dr. Scott DesJarlais, a Republican U. S. Congressman representing a neighboring district. DesJarlais was supported by the Tea Party in 2010, winning his seat by campaigning on the pro-life, low tax, limited government platform that most voters in East Tennessee identify with. In this year’s re-election campaign, however, a recording surfaced of a conversation between DesJarlais and a female patient of his with whom he had committed adultery. In the recording, the woman claimed to be pregnant with his child, and DesJarlais pressured her to have an abortion. The hypocrisy that this exposed has cost him all credibility with the people of his district, turned his locked-in reelection into a fight for survival, and given more ammunition to opponents of the Church and Christian values.

This cartoon exemplified for me the harsh, anti-conservative and anti-Christian turn the pro-abortion forces have taken this election year. The local situation notwithstanding, I thought the cartoon was totally uncalled for. I haven’t written much about this issue as it has played out at the national level this year, but as a firm believer in Tip O’Neill’s observation that “all politics is local”, I undertook to write to the Times Free Press editorial board and register dissent with their choice to display such a hateful image. Please note that being a Christian should never be equated with being a Republican, but the Republican platform on abortion has been consistently shaped by Christians seeking to restore a respect for and protection of God’s image-bearers in our culture.

Below is my letter to the editor, which may or may not show up in the paper, but which I want to share here to encourage Christians around the country not to take such attacks from the media lying down.

To the TFP editorial staff,

Sunday’s editorial cartoon by Clay Bennett was predictably left-wing, more tasteless than usual, and untruthful to the point of libel.

As a longtime reader of the Times Free Press, I’m well familiar with Bennett’s style and politics, and very little that he produces surprises me. He is a talented artist, but I’m sure I’m not the only Chattanoogan who finds his relentless ax-grinding for Democratic Party politics and liberal social issues a poor fit for this community. Still, he is entitled to his opinions and I fully support his right to express them.

When a cartoon so deliberately crafted to goad many (if not most) people in your readership area to anger is run on the front of the Perspectives section with no comment from the editorial staff or space given to an opposing viewpoint, my beef is with the TFP editorial board, not with Mr. Bennett. Cartoons are by nature stand-alone pieces not requiring further commentary, but this absolutely humorless depiction of Republicans as supporters of gruesome back-alley woman mangling and child murder crossed a line that should exempt it from the usual “free pass” afforded to a cartoon. I have trouble believing that the TFP or any other major news outlet would run a written editorial expressing those ideas with the same level of vitriol at all, and certainly not without running a corresponding piece from a pro-life source.

More than the tactlessness, Bennett’s complete misrepresentation of a conservative position on life prompted me to write. The insinuation that political action toward the end of protecting children from abortion must mean 1) that proponents of life wish unspeakable harm to women who become pregnant against their wishes or when they feel helpless to care for a child, and 2) that pro-life conservatives have no compassion whatsoever is hateful and uninformed. Conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives, do so much to protect life (both of mothers and babies).

If the staff of the TFP cared to look, Chattanooga is filled with examples of people giving of their time and resources to help women break the cycle of unintended pregnancy and abortion. The wonderful people at Choices Pregnancy Resource Center (who provide counseling and assistance with prenatal care) and Bethany Christian Services (who work tirelessly to place children with loving foster families and adoptive parents) spring immediately to mind, and I’m sure there are many other smaller organizations and church ministries striving for the same goals. In my own circle of friends at church and at work, I know many families who have sacrificed tremendously to adopt and care for the “unwanted children” that might have been killed in the womb but for the intervention of the same conservatives Bennett skewered in his cartoon. The liberal establishment and the Times Free Press may believe that opposing legal abortion is simply an ivory-tower moralistic position that doesn’t stand up to reality. The truth is that the pro-life movement is filled with people who live out their beliefs at great personal cost to give every member of our society a chance to live their life and have their voice heard. This is apparently a privilege that Bennett takes for granted.

The TFP’s promotion of Bennett’s unanswered attack amounts to nothing more than a gleeful sucker punch of your host city by an editorial staff increasingly out of touch with the needs and values of the Chattanooga region. I offer this as a word of caution. A city of Chattanooga’s caliber deserves a thoughtful, thoroughgoing, and well-managed media presence. If the Times Free Press chooses to become a mouthpiece of only the liberals in the city, another media outlet will grow to fill the middle ground, taking more and more readers out of your circulation and making it more and more difficult to provide the services you promise. It would be a very sad end for a publication with such an august history.

Sincerely,

Justin Lonas
East Ridge

Posted by Justin Lonas

Politics and Faith on Election Day October 10, 2012

Originally published in Pulpit Helps, November 2008, and updated for Disciple Magazine, October 2010.

It seems as though many who’ve encountered Christ, from the very beginning, have confused His mission with political solutions to the world’s problems. From Herod’s violent reaction to the perceived threat of the King’s birth (Matt. 2) to the crowd Jesus fed who then sought to make Him king (John 6:15) to the general perception that He had come to establish an earthly kingdom (exemplified by the disciples misunderstanding of His death in John 20:9-10), men have misinterpreted the Kingdom of God according to their own vision.

Through the centuries, we see this pattern repeated—in Constantine, the aggregation of power in the medieval Roman Catholic Church, the Crusades, the alliance between Church and state through most of modern European history, etc. While in America the relationship between religion and politics was designed to be more distant than in the nations of our forebears, there is still significant overlap. In this heated election season, both sides are quick to invoke God and reach out to the Christian community. The tendency to assign God to a political party and vote accordingly is pervasive—but that’s not what He calls us to.

While there are certain issues never to be compromised on (i.e.—protecting the sanctity of life), almost all political positions involve man’s ideas and plans and therefore are likely to be fundamentally flawed. When we passionately identify ourselves as a Church with any party, we can cheapen our witness by allying ourselves with unbiblical policies and programs. Such a commitment detracts from our ability to reach the lost by creating additional stumbling blocks for unbelievers. Those uncomfortable with being confronted about their need for a Savior will be that much more resistant to that message delivered by someone who is perceived as a political opponent. “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” (1 Cor. 1:18a)—why would we want to make it more difficult for someone to come to the Truth?

At the risk of oversimplification, Americans tend to take one of two approaches in this arena, both of which are damaging to the Gospel. 1) We cherish our religious freedom and we believe that it is the government’s job to enforce morality in the culture, or 2) We cherish the work of Christ and we believe it is the government’s job to do justice and love mercy.

When we succumb to the first approach, we show a watching world that Christianity is not as important in society as general conservatism and that we don’t trust God to redeem men from the inside out as He has always done. When we fall to the second, we show the world that Christianity is less about personal sacrifice and more about making sure someone else takes up their cross and gives involuntarily to the poor and needy through taxes. We show that we don’t trust God to move His Church to live out His kingdom. In either case, we show a willingness to compromise certain key teachings of Christ in order to advance a temporal agenda.

Both approaches belie a fundamental distrust of God’s view of things—if there is one theme that Jesus hit over and over again during His ministry, it was that His kingdom was not of this world. He had eternity in view in everything He did, and Christian involvement in politics can easily devolve into idolatry of the present and visible over the permanent and invisible.

Politics is, fundamentally, about gaining and leveraging power. It revolves around the ability to make others do what you want them to, the desire to protect your interests, and a belief that we must solve our own problems rather than allowing God to work in His time. Christ calls us rather to settle offenses personally and quickly (Matt. 5: 21-26), to graciously accept persecution and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42), to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), to trust God to reward righteousness practiced in secret (Matt. 6:1-6), and to treat others as we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12).

Most of all, He has called us to be fishers of men and to make disciples. Men’s hearts are not changed through political action, but by the work of the Spirit. Accordingly, that should be the focus of our lives and work. If we focus on political solutions to the problems facing the world, we forfeit opportunities to show Christ through service. Governments can provide many services, but without the ability to address the base-level need of humanity, they can never make men whole.

As dangerous an animal as politics can be, it is important to distinguish it from governing authority. Though it is difficult to separate the two in our country, there is an important distinction—governments are instituted by God to preserve order, punish evildoers, and protect the weak. As such, we are told to submit to them (Titus 3:1, Rom. 13:1) to pay our taxes (Rom. 13:6-7) and to pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:2). These passages assume the absolute despotism of the day as the norm and that citizenry has but two choices—obedience and disobedience. The concept of representative government of, by, and for the people (cherished though it may be by most Americans) is not given a category in Scripture. We struggle with this, in short, because we are torn between the submission and prayer commanded of us and the very tangible ability to change things through political action.

As in all professions, God has placed many of His servants in the realm of government. Working with authorities to achieve godly goals is noble and right (as we see in Daniel and Esther) when it is a part of our primary goal of following Him and spreading His Truth. Through such action, William Wilberforce was able to lead the movement to eradicate slavery in the British Empire and stir a revival of true Christianity in that nation. Christians working within governments have helped save untold thousands of lives around the world through disease prevention, aid programs, and peace negotiations, giving men the opportunity to live to hear the Truth. In our own day, believers fight valiantly for the right of unborn children to live, both politically and practically (through adoption and crisis pregnancy centers).

These two temptations—to believe that politics can solve all our problems or to believe that God never uses political action to advance His plans—are always knocking at our door. Even as we seek to focus on our primary mission as His Church, we must be careful to recognize that God’s will and the authorities He set over us are not always in conflict. As we head into the voting booth soon, let us strive to vote according to scriptural principles, but remember that no party or candidate has a platform that wholly conforms to God’s commands. No matter the outcome, our responsibility is to trust the Lord’s sovereignty, submit to and intercede for those He places over us, and be about His business in all aspects of life—not just in the ballot box.

Posted by Justin Lonas

2011 Booklist December 27, 2011

Here are a few books (in no particular order) that I encountered this year of varying genres that I would say are worth recommending for one reason or another.

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, Michael Card

This wasn’t a particularly exegetical or particularly thorough commentary, but it caught my attention for its style. Card looks at the biblical text with an artist’s eye, and reminds us that the coming of Christ into the world was nothing less than astonishing. It is too easy to get stuck in a rut spiritually, and Card’s “devotional commentary” drags you back to the sheer wonder of our Lord and His love for men. Read my full review HERE.

Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day, Kevin DeYoung, ed.

Some books are great at covering vast expanses of material in succinct and engaging ways. This is one of those. A bunch of young-ish pastors and theologians from around the world team up to tell a new generation of Christians the basics of theology, and the result is a great reminder of what we believe and why it matters. In particular, Greg Gilbert’s chapter on the message of the Gospel is probably the most powerful expression of the central truth of Scripture I’ve read in a long time. Read my full review HERE.

Truman, David McCullough

I love history, and I love getting a glimpse at history through biographies. Learning abstract ideas is useful, but opening a window into someone’s life to watch how those ideas play out over decades. Perhaps nobody is writing better biographies presently than David McCullough, and his Truman is a monumental work (in scope and depth). Though I find I disagree with many (if not most) of his political viewpoints, I think I’d have loved to have dinner and a Poker game with Harry Truman. McCullough’s portrait of the 33rd president shows the authenticity and grit of the last true “man of the people” to inhabit the White House.

Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell

I’m a longtime follower of Sowell’s incisive and prescient newspaper columns, but somehow I’d managed never to read any of his books until now. In the pages of Basic Economics, he unlocks the mysteries of the marketplace in ways that anyone could understand, bringing the complexities of the “dismal science” into principles that every voter should bring to bear on their elected officials. If more people would read and take to heart these lessons, the populace might never again elect someone whose political platform includes any form of government tampering with domestic and international markets.

How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, Derek W. H. Thomas

Derek Thomas’ short and sweet meditation on “the greatest chapter in the Bible” was one of my favorite surprises this year. Thomas is quick to remind us that this Gospel spelled out so beautifully by Paul in Romans chapter 8 is the heartbeat of our faith, and that we can never devote too much time and energy to telling and retelling its mysteries to God’s great glory. Indeed the cross of Christ is the center point of all God’s creation and character, as Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). How could we spend our energies on anything less? Read my full review HERE.

What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

Beyond simply articulating the pitfalls of a misdirected mission (i.e., that doing all manner of social good at the expense of Gospel proclamation fails to achieve eternal good), DeYoung and Gilbert issue a rallying cry for the Church to recapture the excitement and joy that comes from pursuing Christ’s commission to us. They remind readers that what ultimately leads to the transformation believers seek in the world is the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit, and they challenge believers to remember that God chooses to break into the lives of the lost through the faithful proclamation of His Gospel through the Church. They make the foundational point that the only thing the Church does that no one else in the world will do is to make disciples of Jesus, and that this should be our driving motivation. What Is the Mission of the Church? is a well-written, well-researched, and much needed book—it might be the most important Christian book of 2011. The implications of our interpretation of our mission for the Body of Christ are tremendous. Read my full review HERE.

The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. Hayek

Sowell whet my appetite for a more in-depth look at socio-economic studies, so I took a stab at Hayek’s magnum opus. It’s a bit dense at times, but that’s more a reflection on the reader than the author. This is a tremendous repository of wisdom for citizens of any nation. Hayek’s commentary on issues from unionism to taxation to social security to state coercion reads as though it was taken from present-day political discussions rather than a 5-decade-old treatise. This is a more openly ideological work than most books on economic theory, but Hayek’s razor-sharp intellect makes his arguments in favor of limited government and free markets sound like the height of accepted wisdom. A must-read for anyone in any kind of policymaking position.

Desiring God, John Piper

I’m rather embarrassed to have never read this classic before., but I’m glad I took the time to enjoy it this year. Enough has been said about this book elsewhere to fill a shelf (and Piper’s eponymous parachurch is a daily fleshing-out of its themes), and all I’ll add is that it is a unique and powerful work. Joy is the only valid motivation for the Christian, as it wasn’t for duty that Christ died.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Another one I’m embarrassed to have missed up to this point. Finn is so ingrained in the fabric of our American culture that it’s easy to think you know the story without ever having read it. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the classics–Twain’s narrative style is comically brilliant, his themes touch every aspect of life in 19th century America, and his insight into the soul of the nation still resonates. Truly the firstborn of American novels.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, Paul E. Miller

I had heard about this book from various quarters for quite a while, but I wasn’t in a hurry to get a copy. Frankly, I’m not a fan of books about prayer and other spiritual disciplines because they often share a common flaw–an author assumes that the way that God worked with him in his own life is somehow a measurable, normative prescription for how God works with everyone. Miller delightfully avoids this temptation, and the result is a book that is both bold and helpful. Read my full review HERE.

Posted by Justin Lonas

Representation without Taxation? July 1, 2010

Last night,  I sat down briefly after dinner to watch a favorite cooking show of mine, and, while waiting for it to air,  ran across TBN  (whatever its goals were at its inception and whatever good it may have ever accomplished notwithstanding, in our house it’s known as The Blasphemy Network). The show of a certain religious television personality who trades heavily in end-times fearmongering and is known to be deeply involved in American politics was on, and the gigantic display of the U.S. and Israeli flags behind his pulpit caught my eye.

Curious, I watched as he began a talk on economic policy, the value of the U.S. dollar, and the ways our present government (and those of European nations) have colluded to destroy the world’s economy. This informational (and  politically charged)  lecture might easily have been  held in a classroom or  election rally and  seemed more prescient.  Whatever one’s personal feelings on the subject matter, I couldn’t help but wonder what place such discourse has as (presumably) the main sermon at a church service. I watched for ten minutes before any reference to Scripture or anything of a spiritual nature entered the lesson, and when it did, it was a passing remark about 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (”If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either“).

This spectacle got me thinking again  about an idea I’ve kicked around before–should churches be tax-exempt, especially when they engage in rhetoric and activities so focused on directing public policy? The TBN program is just one (extreme) example of this abuse of tax-free status. Many mainline U.S. denominations actively promote liberal causes and candidates from the pulpit; many otherwise theologically sound evangelical churches do much the same from the conservative side of the spectrum, though they tend to be more careful not to mention specific parties or candidates because of greater media scrutiny. It seems to me that any organization (with or without a spiritual/religious) pretext that seeks actively to influence elections, laws, and policy should be willing to pay their fair share for a “seat at the table” just like the rest of the individuals and businesses in the country.

Tax-exempt status is, and has historically been, a great blessing to Christians. It enables them to afford the costs of ministry; it provides further  incentive for faithful giving (through income tax deductions); it has helped boost the expansion of the Gospel message around the world by funnelling resources to tax-exempt missions agencies and parachurch ministries. As such, it should not be tossed aside lightly, but at the very least, there should probably be more severe penalties for those that violate the intent of tax-exemption by openly advocating (or denouncing) political positions and candidates. Churches should treat this status as the privilege that it is, and use its benefits to dedicate themselves wholly to the work of the Gospel, not to push the envelope of political involvement.

Biblically, you could make a decent case against any special treatment for Christianity from government. Jesus in Matthew 17:24-27, instructs Peter to pay the temple tax (and miraculously provides the means to do so), specifically seeking to avoid unecessary prejudice against His message by bucking a disliked law. In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus thwarts the machinations of the Pharisees by  distinguishing between spiritual realities (the work of God in his people, who bear His likeness) and political/financial realities (the Roman tax, paid with money which bore Caesar’s likeness). We are told in Scripture to submit to government (Rom. 13, 1 Pet. 2), to pray for those in authority (Rom 13, 1 Tim 2), and to live within the law (1 Pet. 2), but never to desire power, to publically promote the government, or seek to overthrow it (I’ve witten more extensively about this subject here and here). This doesn’t mean that we should not oppose injustice and evil (whether or not it is sanctioned by government), that we should be uncritical of social  and cultural trends that lead people away from the Lord,  or that Christians who are so gifted should not live out their faith in public service. It does mean that the gathered Body of Christ should focus its attention on the Lord and His work and trust His hand in the movement of governments.

What do you think? Should the Church be tax-exempt? Why or why not? Would you trade the right to tax-exemption in order to speak openly about politics from the pulpit?

Posted by Justin Lonas

Of Politics and Faith May 3, 2010

As is often the case in times of economic stress, political life in America becomes much more vocal and more polar than usual. In such a climate, political viewpoints can make odd bedfellows. That certainly seems to be the case with last week’s news that Fox News Channel commentator Glenn Beck would be delivering the commencement address at Liberty University.

Beck is, by all counts, a devout Mormon who finds his conservative politics embedded in his religion’s teachings. Liberty University, of course, is the living legacy of Jerry Falwell, whose name is nearly synonymous with Christian involvement in conservative politics. While at a policy level, Mr. Beck and the leadership of Liberty share much in common, their underlying faiths are anything but similar.

Under ordinary circumstances, it would be unthinkable to have a vocal member of a non-Christian religion (though most Mormons I’ve met would disagree with that characterization, we know theirs to be a false gospel) to speak, with official blessing, to the students of a distinctively Christian university. Somehow, however,  these believers came to the conclusion that the times dictate political association to be of equal or greater importance than orthodox faith.

It seems as though Liberty continues to struggle much in the same way most American Christians do with politics.

At the risk of oversimplification, we tend to take one of two approaches in this arena, both of which are damaging to the Gospel. 1) We cherish our religious freedom and we believe that it is the government’s job to enforce morality in the culture, or 2) We cherish the work of Christ and we believe it is the government’s job to do justice and love mercy.

When we succumb to the first approach, we  show a watching world that Christianity is not as important in society as general conservatism and that we don’t trust God to redeem men from the inside out as He has always done””as Jared Wilson put it, the message of the Gospel is not “behave”. When we fall to the second, we show the world that Christianity is less about personal sacrifice and more about making sure someone else takes up their cross and gives involuntarily to the poor and needy through taxes. We show that we don’t trust God to move His Church to live out His kingdom. In either case, we show a willingness to compromise certain key teachings of Christ in order to advance a temporal agenda.

Both approaches belie a fundamental distrust of God’s view of things””if there is one theme that Jesus hit over and over again during His ministry, it was that His kingdom was not of this world. He had eternity in view in everything He did, and Christian involvement in politics is, at a grand level, idolatry of the present and visible over the permanent and invisible.

The reason why both camps struggle so much in modern America, I think, is because the Bible is eerily silent on democracy. Jesus said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). Paul said, “Be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God…Render to all what is due them…” (Rom. 13:1; 7), and “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Scripture’s stance on government assumes absolute  despotism as the norm and that citizenry has but  two choices””obedience and disobedience. The concept of representative government of, by, and for the people (cherished though it may be by most  Americans) is not given a category in Scripture. We struggle, in short, because we are torn between the submission and prayer commanded of us and the very tangible ability to change things through political action.

This doesn’t answer the intractable problems we face, but it is something I have to keep in mind daily to keep me focused on the true reality of Christ and my true calling as a believer. Politics has never changed a person’s heart or brought eternal salvation to anyone.

Posted by Justin Lonas

Lest We Forget… February 11, 2010

These days it is fashionable to be pessimistic about Western culture in general and the United States of America in particular. Conservatives blame liberals for the palpable decline in our culture’s moral climate; liberals blame conservatives for the greed of corporations and the economic collapse; Christians cast plenty of blame all around for the destruction of life through abortion, the glorification of sin in wider society, and the lack of reverence for things of God. The arguments from all sides have one thing in common–the assumptions that one or more entities are willfully leading society away from its ideal and that the right leadership would shift the balance the other way.

Every side of the so-called “culture wars” misses three vital points that every Christian should strive to remember:

1)  Earthly “leadership”  does not have the mythic powers of social movement that we ascribe to it.
Remember what happened when the Children of Israel gave up on following the Lord and demanded a king to lead them (just like every other nation had). Samuel, whom the Lord had appointed to judge His people, was discouraged and brought his concerns to God. The Lord answered, saying, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day–in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods–so they are doing to you also” (1 Sam. 8:7-8).

The Lord then directed Samuel to give the people a king, and to warn them of the price of their request. Samuel goes on to list the astonishing toll the king would exact on the people, taking their sons for the military, taking their labor, taking a portion of all their wealth through taxes to enrich himself, and culminating in the taking of their joy: “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam. 8:20).  God effectively told Israel that if they made this bed, they would have to lay in it, and yet they ignored Samuel’s counsel, forging ahead to get their king. While many of the kings followed the Lord (and the Lord blessed the land when the king led the nation in God’s path), they ultimately succumbed to the people’s tendency to stray from God, eventually leading the nation headlong into idolatry and immorality. The downward spiral ended with God’s judgment in the form of the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions that moved the whole people into captivity.

The message is that people change leaders more than leaders change people.  Cultural momentum is seldom shaped by a single individual or group and almost never shifted by one. Cultural change is truly a grassroots effort, with individuals and families shaping others–godly leadership at a national level  is a valuable thing, but that alone cannot turn a nation to the Lord.

2)  The key problems that plague society cannot be corrected this side of glory.
Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil will you eat of it all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17b-19). This portion of the curse concerns the futility in which we live during our time on earth–things fall apart, and it takes immense effort just to maintain the status quo. The material world trends away from usefulness and people trend away from obedience (i.e. usefulness to God). It is because of this that “the whole creation groans” (Rom. 8:22) for redemption. The “sweat of our faces” cannot produce a just, peaceful, and healthy world; the final vision of God’s creation must wait for His return.

Does this mean that we should do nothing? By all means no! The natural and moral evil that the Fall brought into the world constantly create havoc and destroy lives. Christ spent  a great deal of His earthly ministry healing the visible scars of the Fall, showing glimpses of what His ultimate redemption would bring. He also charged us with spreading that light and reminding a weary world that this is not how it is supposed to be (in Matthew 25:34-40 and elsewhere). We should be tireless in our efforts to spread the good news of Christ and the holistic redemption that He brings, but we should not rely on governments and organizations to do these things on a macro scale.

3) We are the problem.
G.K. Chesterton famously responded to a Times of London request for essays on the subject of “What is wrong with the world?”  with a short letter:

“Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely Yours,
G.K. Chesterton.”

A fundamental truth underlays the humor of this–that the fallen nature of the human heart is the biggest reason that cultures cannot be moved to righteousness by political action. Scripture is nearly as replete with references to the depravity of man as to the holiness of God. “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7). “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10, quoting from Psalm 14). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

This ties back into the first two points in that human nature dictates a slide away from God’s way that even the best of leaders are unable to reverse entirely. It serves as a poignant reminder that social change doesn’t work its way into the hearts of men, but that God working in the hearts of men often produces social change. When we are tempted to write off the Western world (which has been used mightily of the Lord to proclaim His glory to the nations over the centuries) as a failed experiment, we should ask ourselves if this impulse reflects trust (or lack thereof) in human leadership or in the power and plan of Almighty God. The answer to the sin of pessimism (of which I am chronically guilty) is the same today as it has been for all eternity: “…to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Translation: Do what you know is God’s will; strive after viewing and treating others as God does; patiently trust in Him to sort out the things that are too big to comprehend.

Posted by Justin Lonas

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