Tuesday Tea-ology is here, about the grace and compassion of God.
I’m experimenting with blogging at Medium; it looks like I can get ad-free without having to pay for it or be hidden by a paywall. Anyway, here’s my first post over there, a brief meditation on the comfort that comes from knowing God’s providential control.
When Israel had crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, God directed them to revisit some of the central characteristics of their special relationship with Him. They renewed the circumcision symbolic of their identity as God’s covenant people (Joshua 5:1-9) and observed their first Passover in the land, receiving the produce of their inheritance (vv.10-12). Then Joshua had an encounter with God resonant of Moses’ experience with the burning bush, for, like Moses, Joshua is told “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (v.15, ESV).
In this encounter, God’s manifestation to Joshua is described: “a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (v.13). Joshua greets this martial figure with the question of whose side he’s on: “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He receives the wonderful response, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come” (v.14).
God is no one’s instrument. God is Master. He is not a tool for man’s machinations; His Name is not a password for our own ends; His Word is not a prop. He is accomplishing His purpose, and we should ask not so much if He is on our side as if we are on His side.
Because He will come with drawn sword to destroy His enemies (Rev. 19:1-16). God’s victory is certain. For all the discouragement of things going on in this world, Christians should have a total confidence in the triumph of their cause–because it is God’s cause, to which they have given themselves. The cross advances. If we have faith, we have nothing to fear. Our God is near.
I said, in a previous post, that a secular or pagan society does not have the resources to deal effectively with the issues facing us, without collapsing into chaos or cementing into control. I want to elaborate on what some of the gaps are in the secular worldview, and how these become evident as a pagan society grapples with injustice. Two elements in particular come to mind, both of which are found in the passage I looked at yesterday, Colossians 3:1-11.
The first is that the pursuit of justice is properly holistic, and a partial pursuit of justice is easily twisted. The Christian worldview understands justice in the context of God’s righteousness, and therefore promotes a holistic justice in line with the character of God. But a pagan culture takes a subjective approach to justice, built on a confusion of philosophies and social theories. Thus we see the same people calling for justice in one area, while they promote wickedness in another. Exhibit A is the American celebrity class, who call for economic justice (while enjoying lavish lifestyles), even as they frequently advance the cause of abortion; exhibit B is the Black Lives Matter organization, which calls for racial justice even while they zealously advance sexual immorality.
In contrast, the Christian worldview calls for a holistic embrace of righteousness; racial unity comes in the context of the entire mortification of the flesh, including “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires…greed…anger, rage, malice, slander…filthy language” and lying (Col. 3:1-9, NIV). Our culture would like to pursue racial justice, while holding on to most, if not all of, the rest of these sins. Justice will not be the result. That is one of the lessons of the past weeks. It seems that the same cultural currents running against retributive justice for criminals have turned suddenly warm to unjust and indiscriminate retribution towards the innocent. That is a consequence of having an understanding of justice untethered to divine righteousness.
The second crippling gap in the secular worldview–and it is connected to the first–is the gross inadequacy of its anthropology. They seek racial justice, but they have rejected the truth about humanity. A culture that does not grasp the logic of human dignity will find new ways to denigrate people. A culture that doesn’t know what men and women are cannot advance human flourishing. This shows itself in the strikingly naïve call to disband police–in an area that has just been ravaged by horrifying rioting, arson, and looting–with the rosy prediction that peace and mutually supportive community will spring up in the absence of any law enforcement. Such policies can only be advanced by people who are ignorant of human fallenness, and think that sin can be remedied solely by education, psychology, housing, and community.
The Christian worldview, by contrast, recognizes that human dignity transcends all differences between us, because we are created in the image of God. This is why there is retributive justice, and not indiscriminate retribution. We also recognize that humans are fallen and now have a sin nature, and that laws (and their enforcement) are necessary. And we recognize that the hope for true and supportive community, for love that transcends all boundaries, is found in a new humanity in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to save us from sin. The hope for racial reconciliation is found in a Christian anthropology, which proclaims that in Christ, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (v.11).
The many grim headlines that have met us in recent days point to a nation caught in the tug-of-war between chaos and control, and remind us that we are in this dilemma because we, as a culture, have rejected the Lordship of Christ. We encounter grievous injustice, and try to deal with it with all the resources of pagan or secular worldviews; the results are what we see unfolding.
There can be no doubt that self-consciously Christian societies have often failed to live up to their own principles. But what should be noticed is that these failures were a contradiction of their principles, not an accordance with them. That means that such a society would have within itself the resources to address its failures with repentance and reconciliation. There is a divine standard of justice, pure and glorious, to which all men stand accountable; there is an identifiable spiritual root to all injustice, sin in the human heart; there is a means of challenging wickedness with the gospel of Jesus Christ, of calling sinners to repentance and of seeing change, reconciliation, healing, and love that transcends boundaries.
But a secular or pagan society–and are these different things, or only different names?–does not contain within itself the resources to address injustice. That is why the efforts to address it turn towards chaos or control. The way of Christ has been excluded from the start, in pursuit of freedom from God. But freedom from the Righteous One will never mean righteousness, nor true freedom. A society that rejects the God who is the divine standard of justice cannot be expected to arrive at justice in its social dimensions.
The solution to our situation is neither revolution nor authoritarianism. It is conversion. The price of a just and peacefully society is repentance. Repentance of what? Many things. But, in the first place, of our secularism. If we will not have Christ, it is control or chaos. If we do not want chaos or control, we must turn to Christ.
Psalm 65 begins extolling the kindness and mercy of the Lord: “Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. You who answer prayer, to you all people will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions” (Psalm 65:1-3, NIV). God is loving to the undeserving, gracious and good. We can look to Him in our need.
Indeed, He is our only hope. We are confronted with dangers and uncertainty, and we cannot save ourselves. Where should we look for hope, for forgiveness, for life?
“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas” (v.5). God is able to save, to heal, to forgive. When situations seem beyond help, God is able. When all others fail us, God is able. In the depths of our sin, God is able to lift us up in His mercy. Let us remember that we serve the Almighty God. He is strong to deliver anyone who looks to Him. He is “the hope of all the ends of the earth.” He is our hope, and we can trust Him.