Unprecedented prosperity, low unemployment, and a buoyant optimism characterizes the spring of 1999 in America. A vague uneasiness creeps in when the evening news describes the NATO bombings and terrible refugee situation in the Balkans. And then terrible news from Littleton, Colorado breaks in upon us. Two ordinary high school juniors have suddenly decided to end their lives by taking a great number of their fellow students with them into eternity. They have chosen a shooting and bombing spree of horrific proportions as their way of expressing their existential despair. Neither is this an isolated episode, for school violence has made the major head lines 8 or 9 times in the past couple of years.
It is an illusion to suppose that society is improving morally and sociologically. Economic and technological "advances" do not affect the basic character of human beings. Education does not alter the root conditions of the evil latent in all of us. Psychology can not find a cure. Federal funding, determined resolve by Law Enforcement agencies, and lobbying for better security do not touch the problem.
The Bible does have plenty to say about the matter. It is the absence of God from public life that has caused the forces of violence and darkness to rise to the surface and express themselves in these shocking and hideous forms. Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah described ignoring God versus trusting Him as the difference between living under a curse, or enjoying the favor and blessing of God.
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings."(Jeremiah 17:5-10)
In those times of history where God's people walk in humility, godliness, and integrity with their God, the society in which these believers live enjoys a good measure of "salt" and "light." Jesus called His disciples by these adjectives because the presence of God in their lives (a) acts as a preservative against moral decay in society, and (b) because light and understanding about God through Christ's church is the only way we can understand the way things really are in a moral universe.
The Apostle Paul indicts the human race for its multiple failures in the first three chapters of his letter to the Romans. The Epistle to the Romans is foundational truth about God--it is must reading for all who want to know and understand their Creator.
Paul begins by telling us that the announcement of the good news of God's love for us in Christ carries with it God's power to change the human heart:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."
Paul then reveals that mankind is alienated against God and that we are by nature enemies of God and opposed to Him in the way we live--in our motives, goals in life, and presuppositions about most everything. As a result we live out our days under God's abiding "wrath" (Greek: orge).
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, "Turn back, O children of men!"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.For we are consumed by thy anger; by thy wrath we are overwhelmed. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on thy servants! Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.Make us glad as many days as thou hast afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.Let thy work be manifest to thy servants, and thy glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
It is when we grant Jesus Christ permission to take over as Lord of our lives that this divine wrath which "rests on us" is removed:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God...
He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony; he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit; the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.(John 3:16-21, 31-36)
Entire societies degenerate over time--it is unusual in history for a nation or a dynasty to survey more than a few hundred years. No nation, no government--save the case of Israel (see "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done")--has ever been founded on a direct covenant with God. Yet our nation was founded at a time when the godly "remnant" of the pioneers and colonists was much stronger than it is now.
Our nation today has a very large professing Christian population--but the "remnant" (i.e., the embedded minority of true believers), is small and weak.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the downward decay of any society proceeds step by step. As human beings turn from worshiping and serving the living God, God releases the restraints against the latent evil in the human heart--in three stages:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all ungodliness and wickedness of men
who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
For what can be known about God is plain to them,
because God has shown it to them.
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
So they are without excuse;
for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts
to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up
to dishonorable passions.
Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up
to a base mind and
to improper conduct.
They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them. (Romans 1:16-32)
The above indictment is not against an individual, it does not tell us precisely what happens when a given individual turns away from God. Rather, Paul is giving us the big picture--God's view of things as they really are.
Where is our nation to be found these days--as God sees us? Clearly, from Romans Chapter One, we have reached the bottom of Paul's list--we are a nation near the point of total moral collapse. We can expect God's severe judgment on us at any time.
As for the nature of the human heart Jesus taught:
"For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."(Mark 7:21-23)
James, the half-brother of Jesus came to know God after the resurrection of Jesus. He went on to become the pastor of the early Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem. His epistle is probably the earliest letter we have in the New Testament. In Chapter Four, James puts his finger squarely on the reason why violence, fighting and wars are in the world:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war (stratos) in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
The Greek original is interesting because "wars" (machomai) and "fightings (polemos) in this passage are military terms in the original. They refer to the individual campaigns and skirmishes as well as a war as a totality. "Members" is melos in Greek--from which our English word "melody" is derived! "Passions" (or pleasures), hedone, is the root for our English word "hedonism."
James bluntly states that the pursuit of pleasure, living for self- choosing false gods and the resulting spiritual adultery is what causes our unfulfilled search for pleasure and happiness to turn into hatred, violence and murder! We were made to find our fulfillment living in union with God. When we choose other gods instead, we act contrary to the way the universe was made to function--our idolatry leads to emptiness and despair. It can not be otherwise.
Unfaithful creatures! (Greek: adulteresses, feminine, plural)
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Finally James urges us to turn wholeheartedly to God--for therein in our salvation and the means of repairing and restoring a broken social order. Without God's help we as a people have no defense against the forces of darkness which seek to erupt and destroy us all.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)
After the First Temple in Jerusalem was dedicated, King Solomon prayed a wonderful prayer on behalf of the nation of Israel. God's response included the following promise. It applies to God's people everywhere today:
"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
April 21, 1999.
September 29, 2001