Tomorrow will be a holiday in my country. In fact this week we will have two holidays, as we pause to celebrate Emancipation from Slavery, and also celebrate 49 years as a Sovereign nation, having gained independence from the British in 1962. Tomorrow too will be a significant day in America's history as they seek to avoid a default in the payment of their debts - which would be the first time in their history - and which action could trigger a financial panic in the USA and around the world. A situation which could spell absolute disaster for my country and for other fragile economies that depend heavily on the West for survival. Thankfully word came tonight that a deal has been struck between Democrats and Republicans and thus the vote tomorrow should prevent the largest and most efficient economy in the world from going into a tailspin. Interestingly this past week I spent time reading a book which has greatly helped in my understanding of the development of Western societies, of which we in Jamaica are so firmly and irreversibly a part. The title says it all. "The God that did not fail: How Religion built and sustains the West", by Robert Royal.
A historical overview which is set against the background of the prevailing view in the minds of some very influential individuals in the West who have come to regard Religion, and more specifically the Christian religion, as anti -science, irrational, superstition, the cause of much grief in the world, and that in effect God has failed.
Several thought provoking - and worthy of serious prayer - issues, emerged during my journey through the ages with Robert Royal, whose scholarship - particularly in the quality of the research - nuanced, balanced and fair analysis, makes this book a very timely one. Especially as we stop to reflect on the progress we have made and the serious challenges posed by our political arrangements - the actions of the Tea party members in the current debate ought give Americans reasons to pause; the quality of our social intercourse - the recent cases of beheading in my country ought give us even more reason to pause; the moral decline evident in all western societies; and what the Christian religion offers us as we seek to chart a course for the future.
Perhaps the most important point raised is captured in a quotation by the author Peter Berger; " The religious impulse, the quest for meaning that transcends the restricted space of empirical existence in this world, has been a perennial feature of humanity. ( This is not a theological statement but an anthropological one - an agnostic or even an atheist philosopher may well agree with it.) It would take something close to a mutation of the species to extinguish this impulse for good." In the sense that ultimately all cultures seek to understand " the truth" about life; who are we, where do we come from, why does evil exist, and what exists after this life - according to Royal.
The question is how much in this 21st Century, do our current crop of world leaders, even those in marginalized countries like mine, and individuals in general consider questions like these? And consequently, how much has the absence of this kind of debate, which was very lively among leaders and the elite in ancient and recent history, contributed to many of the social, moral and political challenges we face today? As I thought and prayed about these issues, they spawned two e mails to " thinking folks", back home, And which " conversations" I believe were inspired by the Lord as I sought to understand why He had led me to Borders book shop - I normally shop in Barnes and Noble - to purchase this book, which I did not find when I eventually located a BN store.
THE FIRST MESSAGE
I have not finished it as yet and already there is a lot to contemplate - Robert Royal's, The God that did not fail: How Religion built and sustains the West". It traces, and shares a different perspective on, the historicity of the Greek and Roman scholars and thinkers and their connection with the history of Jews and ultimately Christianity. Then it seeks to recast the history of Christianity and the Middle ages and the Renaissance period......and now we are into the new world. All this against the background of the current received wisdom of many scholars and people of powerful influence in the West, that man is a rationale being and Christianity is a purveyor of superstition and an instigator of wars; a very negative influence on the progress and the desire for freedom inherent in the hearts of mankind. And now this morning I have a greater appreciation on what St. Paul means when he says, I am not ashamed of the Gospel" .......and " Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ( Aristotle, Socrates and Plato) look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified", and ......When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom....my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words ( of the philosophers) but with demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith may not rest on men's wisdom but on God's power. The same power which sustained the church in the midst of the battle of the received wisdom of the Greek philosophers and strength of the Roman army on the minds of the people, vs the Word of God as advanced by the Jews and then even more powerfully in word and deed by The early Christians. Question is, where is the evidence of that power, that fervor, that unashamed of the lifestyle that the Gospel demands, and which lifestyle and involvement in the life of the people with whom they interacted, by force or by desire? Where is the leadership of men like St. Augustine and Luther and Thomas Aquinas and many others I am reading about, who had a seminal influence on the spread of the " Gospel" - with it's many lessons - aided by the power of the Spirit of God? In the midst of " hostile territory" far worse than that posed by the proponents of this allegedly post modern society, of whom this current crop of church leaders seem so afraid and unwilling to challenge on a consistent basis. And who do not really understand the debt they owe to the Christian culture for their inalienable rights - including the right to corrupt history. There is more, but I am in the midst of my " devotions" and being obedient. Peace.
THE SECOND MESSAGE
.........I just finished watching the video reporting on the Lausanne Conference - I am on their e mail list -. Powerful stuff! Discussing the entire gospel for the entire world; the ethnic violence gripping the world and one man made a point which has been in my heart since I started reading the book, and which was brought home even more sharply to me this morning when I sent the first message. Essentially he said that many Christians in today's world were behaving in a way which suggested that spreading the gospel did not involve sacrifice - cheap grace - and which kind of Christianity would not be recognized by the early Christians.
This morning in my prayers, I repented of my part in being " ashamed of the Gospel". An issue I think if closely examined, could characterize how we live as Christians in this century.
The following " revelations" on my journey so far with this book have impacted my mind and my soul greatly.
......The fact that the love that Christians had for each other, and for the poor of the Roman empire, much more than they the ruling class did, greatly impressed the Romans, and in the view of one historian, could account for the penetration of the gospel, both in the ruling class and in the lower working classes. An example was cited how when famous men of philosophy fled the scene - Galen was one example - as most rationale person would be expected to do in the face of terrible epidemics, the Christians stayed and took care of the sick and destitute.......this concept of love in its purest form as mandated by a loving God, who we love and love for our neighbour and those who persecute us, had escaped the brilliant minds of the early Greek philosophers. And whose speculative reasoning had influenced the Roman culture, as it has impacted on Western thought for thousands of years
........the fact that religion, in its nascent form as we understand it - acknowledging gods who were part of human society vs the Sovereign God of the Christians - played a central role in the lives of these early philosophers, as discovered in closer examination of the great works of Homer and Virgil. A fact which has been deliberately suppressed by modern day philosophers in their quest to nail home the point about religion and superstition, anti-science, and the emergence of the rationale man unencumbered by the constraints of irrational thoughts.
..........the flowering of universities under the influence of the early Christians who were determined that they should produce men and women who could then continue to teach the basics of the faith. And the powerful debates which raged at the time over theological and philosophical issues, as these Christians, contrary to popular thought, used the thoughts and methods of debate of the Greek philosophers to augment and deepen their understanding of the gospel.
.....the fact that despite the label of the dark ages, this was the age when Christian culture helped to prevent the overrun of Europe by the Arabs, after the fall of Rome. By the fact that many of the barbarians, were already converted Christians who helped in the various struggles
.......the explosion of monasteries across Europe and the resultant push of the gospel into the northern parts in general and into Germany in particular, and then eventually to Anglosaxon England.....and the exporting of new ideas of science and agriculture and ideas of freedom to these cultures
....the great impression that the ordered and moral high high ground which were features of the Christians....commitment to marital fidelity vs. the debauchery and immorality rampant in the Roman society.
......but the great general impression was the unconquerable spirit possessed by these early Christian who were prepared to sacrifice their very lives - and to die with courage and dignity
for the spread of the gospel. They were clearly not " ashamed of the Gospel".
Question is, are we ashamed of the gospel, or just ignorant of the demands of this high office to which we are called. A global vision of spreading the kingdom of God. An urgent view of the need for the gospel in all places and for all people. A personal acceptance like St. Paul, that on account of the cross, we have been crucified to the world and the pleasures of the world to us. Perhaps the view of the early philosophers that life moves in cycles of striving to achieve and then having achieved, decadence and decline sets in. Which then triggers another cycle of striving to achieve. The resolution of which pattern of human behaviour, greatly occupied the minds of the Roman elite who were very mindful of the consequence for their rule. But which problem, history has recorded, they were unable to prevent. This issue according to Royal also occupied the minds of the early founding fathers of the American revolution, who were afraid, having been influenced/warned, by the Roman and Greek philosophers, as many of their time were, that what seems to happening to America, decadence leading to decline, was a concern, and is now very much a problem. This of course is countered by the linear understanding of time according to the Sovereign rule of the living God of Abraham, whose promise to that wandering and unsophisticated Jew, has resulted in a people numbering over 3 billion and rising. The problem is whether aspects of the church, unfettered by the demands of the true gospel, have fallen prey to this cycle of decadence and decline - being very comfortable with the kind of Christianity which does not cost anything, and which has no overarching global or even national vision. And therefore becoming quite irrelevant in the scheme of things, and if not careful could attract the attention of the One who famously declared that one such church was supposedly alive but was very dead indeed.
May we consider these things deeply as we worship and praise the Lord on a Sunday - or Saturday, as this is neither the time nor place for that kind of debate - morning, remembering what price men and women paid to allow us this privilege - we could have been living under Arab rule and studying the Holy Q'uaran rather than complaining about the 'quirks" of the Christian faith. But ultimately the price Jesus paid for being the author and sustainer of the gospel.
I need to read this book again, but as I considered the implications of this " revelation", watched and drew inspiration from - tears almost came to my eyes, when Biko's friend escaped to tell the tale of the wicked act, so long after the event - the movies , " Cry Freedom" - about the brutal death of Steve Bike during the Apartheid era; Invictus - about Nelson Mandela's perceptive and extraordinarily statesman-like and forgiving leadership in the early days of his Presidential rule in post Apartheid SA; and tonight " Lion King", one of the most beautiful movies ever made about leadership, I pondered.......Do we need a public debate or a careful analysis by competent and unbiased intitutions and individuals on the philosophic foundations which underpin the plans which leaders - potential and current - have considered in their plans to craft an an orderly, peaceful and society? Do we really understand what makes Obama, Rommney, Sarah Palin and other leaders " tick"? And the same question ought to be put to Prime Minister Golding, Andrew Holness, Tufton and other wannabees as well as Portia Simpson-Miller, Peter Phillips and others at home. These are serious times in the life of many countries and we cannot allow " gods that have failed", to influence, without challenge, the minds of those who lead us anymore. Royal pointed out that it is these gods that have failed; Scientific socialism in Russia, which resulted in the death of millions of people compared to the equally horrific Crusades and Inquisitions, but which death rate pales into almost insignificance - estimated in the thousands over many years; Nazism - which killed millions in Europe and sought to exterminate an entire race of Jews in Europe; the followers of Nietzsche, Rousseau, Voltaire and Freud, who famously mocked God, and one whom went totally mad before he died. I even " discovered ", a most appropriate poem written by William Blake:
Mock on. Mock in Voltaire, Rousseau
Mock on. Mock on: 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind trhe mocking Eye,
But still in Israel paths they shine.
The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton's particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore
Where Israel's tent do shine so bright.
And I considered these things, the Word of God came into my mind;
" All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the
flowers of the field;
the grass withers, and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever." 1 Peter 1: 24. NIV
Perhaps men need to consider such revelations before they make fools of themselves and others by trying to undermine the Sovereignty of the Living God. However, my final thoughts, as inspired by the Lord, were so much about those who had failed to be obedient to the God of Abraham, as they need serious and persistent prayer - the following message to a senior political leader reflects this truth:
"No man ever believes with a true and saving faith unless God inclines his heart; and no man when God does incline his heart can refrain from believing". Blaise Pascal "Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me, and keep all my commands always, so that it may go well with them and their children forever". Deuteronomy 5:29 NIV. The Word of God;
but rather we, the redeemed children of God, upon whom the fulfillment of the ages has come, in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What is our role in the post modern society? What is our role in shaping the course of history, in Jamaica, in the USA, in the now very secularized - but not hopelessly so - Europe, in post Communist Russia and post Apartheid South Africa and everywhere Christians find themselves. The final e mail provides an answer.
Ever since I have been here in Miami, the story of Jonah and the great city of Nineveh has been in mind. In the sense that God spared the great city of Nineveh because Jonah, after much disobedience, preached the word and the people, inspired by strong leadership, repented. Then this morning: The story of God and Noah. How the Lord grieved that He had made man on the earth......as every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time....Genesis 6:5-6......Noah found favor with God.
Immediately my mind went to the story of Abraham and Sodom.....Then the Lord said, The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and the sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me........Then Abraham approached him and said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked.....far from be it from you to do such a thing......Will not the judge of the earth do right? Genesis 18:20-25
Then I recalled God coming down in response to the cries of his people Israel in Egypt, and then the exaltation of the people after Jesus had done a particular miracle.....that God had come down to save his people .
Then I pondered the high calling that the church has in this context ......the called out to speak the word of God to this great city of Miami....New York...Kingston.....
Then I remembered this meditation :
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Epistle to Diognetus
Verse Galatians 5:6
The relation of Christians to the world is that of a soul to the body. As the soul is diffused through every part of the body, so are Christians through all the cities of the world. The soul, too inhabits the body, while at the same time forming no part of it; and Christians inhabits the world, but they are not a part of the world.
The soul, invisible herself, is immured within an visible body; so Christians can be recognized in the world, but their Christianity itself remains hidden from the eye.
The flesh hates the soul, and wars against her without any provocation, because she is an obstacle to its own self-indulgence; and the world similarly hates the Christian without provocation, because they are opposed to its pleasures. All the same, the soul loves the flesh and all it's members,despite their hatred for her; and Christians too, love those who hate them.
The soul, shut up in inside the body, nevertheless holds the body together; and though they are confined within the world as in a dungeon, it is Christianity that holds the world together. The soul, which is is immortal, must dwell in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians, as they sojourn for a while in the midst of corruptibility here, look for incorruptibility in the heavens.
Finally, just as to be stunted of food and drink makes for the soul's improvement, so when Christians are everyday subjected to ill-treatment, they increase the more in numbers. Such is the high post of duty in which God has placed them, and it moral duty not to shrink from it.
In case those of us who live, temporarily or permanently in this great city of Miami....New York....Toronto....London....Birmingham...or in California.....or Florida.....or Maryland...or Texas .....or Bermuda.....or in the Bahamas....or in Japan....or China.....that you are here, as a child of God and therefore co-heir with Christ in the Kingdom of God, to simply advance your material progress and secure a better future for your children........think again. By God's grace that may happen, but you have a much higher calling. To be a watchman in this great city, and warn the people about impending disaster like Ezekiel. To call the people to repentance like Jonah. To protect the city from destruction like Abraham, with your prayers and with your righteous and blameless Lifestyle. To cry out God for relief from the bondage of your sins and the sins of the people around as did the children of Israel. To represent the Lord Jesus in your interaction with people so that He may work miracles of love and mercy through you, so that the recipients of such sacrificial love will declare that ....God has come to save his people. That's the high calling of the church in every society, and throughout every age......that's why we are......diffused through all cities as the soul is diffused through every part of the body.