The man was insistent, pugnacious and standing on his soapbox he was not afraid to give them a piece of his mind to put it gently. Things had gotten so bad that the time for diplomatic niceties and ambiguous nuances and stale platitudes had long passed and the time had come to tell it as it is regardless of the consequences.
If they wanted to assassinate him and make him a public example to keep the wretched status quo intact then let them; but he was not going to roll over and play dead, lord no, his conscience and calling would not let him. He was going to trumpet their misbehaving and misdeeds from every hill and mountaintop, from every hamlet and village and from every shop and meeting place and fearlessly expose their dark and malign activities to the glare of public scrutiny and societal condemnation. At one point he waxed lyrical, called them by name and said, and I quote, “You are crooks, the lot of you. You take advantage of the widows who have no representation and rob them of their property. You are exceptionally corrupt and your justice can be bought by the highest bidder. You pervert justice, sell out the poor, are greedy for gain and abuse the public trust... But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream”
Another man, equally insistent, famously courageous and spellbindingly eloquent and standing on his public platform was mightily motivated and not afraid to take on the abusers, the oppressors and the justice-denying hierarchy that were inflicting the people with abundant misery. In a purple patch of powerful prose forecasting the harbinger of doom he said of the avenger, and I quote, “The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope. All this is because of … transgression; because of the sins…Therefore I will make …[yours]… a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. All her idols will be broken to pieces; all her temple gifts will be burned with fire; I will destroy all her images. Since she gathered her gifts from the wages of prostitutes, as the wages of prostitutes they will again be used."
So when were these statements made; this year, this decade or maybe in the last century or so? None of the above. The dates of these pronouncements were the year 762 BC (Minor Prophet Amos) and 740 BC (Minor Prophet Micah) during the time when Samaria (Northern tribes of Israel) was experiencing an age of heightened prosperity, excessive luxury and pervasive moral laxity.
When these pronouncements were made society had undergone some enormous changes and the usually high moral standards were disregarded very much like ours is today. A contemporary Bible Commentary put it very well, “By the eighth century B.C. the old agricultural system in Israel and Judah, with its fairly even distribution of wealth, was gradually replaced by a greedy, materialistic, and harsh society that split the people sharply into the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The rich land-owners got richer and the poor farmers got poorer. The latter migrated to cities, which were characterized by poverty and vice alongside the upper classes’ luxury and also their cruelty to the poor. Trade with pagan nations also brought in their false religious cults and lower morals.”
I look around me and see contemporary society exhibiting a paradigm fearsomely similar to the one described and castigated by Amos and Micah. That ancient society was on the cusp of unparallel disaster with the northern tribes via the Assyrians soon to dissipate into captivity and serfdom and the southern tribes, a little later, via the Babylonians being captured and deported to foreign lands.
It is truly remarkable how that history keeps repeating itself and the old mantra “the lessons we learn from history is that we do not learn the lessons from history” keeps popping up to remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. The same issues and concerns permeating the ancient world afore mentioned are present even more so today and the enormous progressive strides in science and technology has not altered one whit the awfulness and suffering of a large swathe of humanity.
So what, you may ask, has brought us to this juncture, to this formidable and historic crossroad? It is my thesis that the strongest impulse in man, and the dominant trait in weak men, is rebellious destructiveness. You can almost split that into two; rebellion and destructiveness. There is a fascinating quote from the Bible that goes like this, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”(Ecclesiastes 7:29) Inventions in this context is a pejorative because of the contra-distinctive use of the word “but”. The passage is in fact saying that man was created upright, righteous and right-thinking but he has now gone off on his own and has become the opposite; he is now crooked, self righteous and wrong-headed.
Everywhere you look today you will see abundant evidence of this troubling phenomena; the absence of right-thinking. In the past there were mighty issues of warped right-thinking but they were mainly held by powerful elites who through political domination and economic strangulation kept the majority in a state of hapless acceptance and often intimidatory compliance. Mighty issues of warped right-thinking would include matters like slavery, Nazism and racism to name but three. Today however it is not just about one or two mighty issues but a culture of warped right-thinking that exists everywhere.
There was a time when society had norms of behaviour that were generally acceptable and considered to be healthy, uplifting and valuable but many today subscribe passionately to anomie and all that represents. Trawl through the headlines of the recent past and you will see a witches brew of issues that give all right-thinking people cause for concern. Young girls, often underage, producing offspring willy-nilly and for absent fathers; women aborting babies on demand as a lifestyle choice; sexual perversions most gross and beastly now being taught in some schools and in many homes as acceptable alternative lifestyles; the worshipping of money and the get-as-much-as-you-can at all cost even if it means selling your soul to the devil; the slaying of parents and the aged euphemistically called euthanasia; the wanton pollution of the air, water, land and ecosystems and the pretense that no harm is being caused and the escalating crime rate along with the mushrooming prison population.
There was a time when crooks were distinguished by their rough clothing, their crude manner and their love of violence and bellicosity and apt to pull a knife or gun to get what they want. Today the crooks are more likely to be dressed in sharp suits and ties, sit in high backed chairs, greet you with a warm handshake and on their office door will be the legend "Manager" or "Executive" or "Consultant" or some such innocuous title. Were you to stand in an adjacent corridor and shout so they could all hear, "Thief. Police help me" they would instinctively run for the exits like terrified monkeys thinking the police is about to arrest them, and this is applicable to nearly all professions everywhere because honesty and integrity are in very short supply.
All of these things are troubling for they carry within them the seeds of a retrograde descent into a place we don't want to go. Humanity down the ages has emerged from the abyss and clothed itself with a semblance of civility but is now poised on the brink of a new dark age and especially so spiritually. Since the arrival of Jesus Christ to usher in the age of grace we have not witnessed such powerful forces at work trying to debilitate and destroy humanity's soul and dispel its hope of reconciliation with God.
There have been some mighty blows in the past that have rocked the faith community even although the blows were not aimed directly at them. On the other hand the faith community have suffered direct assault from all sides and were able to emerge battered but unbowed. This time the wounds are deep, pervasive and septic and truth to tell are mainly self inflicted and as a consequence we find ourselves at this crucial crossroad.
Before I deal with the contemporary situation, this crossroads dilemma, more specifically, there are some acknowledgements in order here. I am not trying in any way to accommodate the skeptics, the agnostics, the atheist, the alternate view or the many who delight on sitting on the fence or spinning in merry circles and the many who routinely and gleefully attack the religious community as if such was rooted in their DNA. If two thousand years of Christian endeavour, Christian sacrifice, gracious behaviour and building compassionate and caring communities across the world is not convincing to them then it is hard to see what can be.
As I write the last of the 33 miners trapped in the San Jose mine in Chile has been rescued and to a man they all said the same thing, "It is their faith in God that kept them strong and faithful" and they all emerged remarkably stable and sane after being buried for over two months in the belly of the earth. Never mind your skepticism to matters of faith you will have to be horrendously opaque or in a state of extraordinary willful denial not to acknowledge and give credit for something abnormal in this instance. If you see the water, feel the water, walk in the water and still deny that it is water then that says something significant about you and puts you beyond the pale.
Crossroads on the highways, by their very nature, are stressful and particularly so if you do not know exactly where you are going. Conundrums are avoided or at least eased if the crossroads have well lit and clearly marked directions, if they are lightly trafficked and the weather conditions are favourable. However you look at it crossroads force you to make a decision, to determine a direction and thus a destiny and none more so than when the crossroad is not on some benign highway but involves the heart and soul of a nation and the world and will effect life from here on as we experience it.
Too many people fail to appreciate the enormous contribution made to the world through religion, the faith community and especially Christianity. In spite of the skeptics survey after survey has found that peoples of the world regard Christians as better neighbours, more compassionate, more caring, more trustworthy, more generous and supportive, and the most honest and productive in the workplace. The accomplishments of Christianity are such that without them the world would be in feral darkness with no hope of extricating itself. For good and compelling reasons the Bible refers to Christians as the light of the world and the salt of the earth for we represent and typify the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to communicate him to the entire world.
Christians have a hard-earned reputation for helping the poor, comforting the sick, visiting and assisting those in prisons, supporting widows and orphans and above all helping the children. This is the heart and soul of Christianity. Without these activities Christianity is nothing more than an abstraction, a pious conglomeration of theologies little removed from the self-serving philosophies of the classical Greek philosophers and have much in common with devils; for devils also believe and tremble (James 2: 19). It is here that the most frightful challenge exist for the heart and soul of Christianity and it not an exaggeration to say that if this battle is lost then humanity's doom is imminent.
Let me be clear the challenge from outside the church has always and will always be there and the church is accomplished in dealing with those threats effectively. The contemporary threats are very different and arise primarily from within the church and they are not the kind of threats like Arianism or Pelagianism that church councils can come together and resolve. No, these threats are of a different nature and magnitude and it's their endemic nature that has brought the church to the crossroads. If you can undermine the church to such an extent that people no longer trust it, that any help it offers is tainted and suspicious and it's ministers are regarded as vultures and predators then you would have ushered in the period of darkness which I mentioned.
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