Archive for February, 2010

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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