Less Hysteria, More Prayer?

More and more, it seems as though Christians are regularly being asked to endure scorn, insult and even public shame for their beliefs. “Do you really believe what you are saying?” or “How can you be so intolerant?” seem to be the default societal responses to even the most quiet, well-educated and respectful affirmation of belief in Jesus as the Way (singular and exclusive), the Truth (singular and exclusive) and the Life (singular and exclusive), shocking truth claims that Jesus Himself very clearly makes in John 14:6 and throughout the New Testament.

It should not be at all surprising, then, that this scorn for Christian beliefs makes its way into our judiciary, our legal system and other public institutions. In thoroughly-secular America (and even more so in Europe), laws are being enacted to further restrain what pastors can say from their pulpits, to take away a parent’s decision as to whether or not to apply corporal punishment to their children, to enable the termination of human life in an ever-expanding set of circumstances, etc. etc. etc. None of this is really news; these days, headlines simply inform us of the latest way in which Judeo-Christian values are increasingly being discarded as quickly as losing betting slips at the race track.

Just last week – in case you missed it – the United Kingdom stripped a Christian couple of their ability to offer foster care, citing their Christian belief system as antithetical to the UK’s desire to create a society which prizes sexual equality as an ultimate principle. I’m just shooting from the hip here, but doesn’t it seem as though an effort to eliminate discrimination and hate crimes against the GLBTQ community – which I think all faithful Christians would readily agree is a good thing – has somehow turned into the very worst sort of discrimination itself? In seeking to protect the freedom of all Britons to have sex with anyone or anything that happens to catch their fancy, without worrying about any pesky Christians who might otherwise spoil their fun, has the UK completely lost sight of the thousands of children who will now go without a foster and/or adoptive family? Is an adult’s right to have “morally neutral” sex with whomever/whenever/wherever really so important that we are willing to condemn orphans to a lifetime of state-sponsored institutionalization?

Examples come in every day across the Internet, on television, in newspapers and magazines to let us all know that, in Western society, the Judeo-Christian ethic of determining right from wrong is largely considered “outdated” and in need of being dismantled, discredited and expunged. Another recent example demonstrates that it’s considered OK to write and sell apps for the Apple iPhone that promote political action on behalf of gay marriage…but apparently it is not OK to write an app that affirms the sanctity of all human life along with traditional one man/one woman marriage. Chuck Colson and the framers of The Manhattan Declaration have referred to Apple’s blatant, discriminatory stance by saying, “It is difficult to see how this is anything other than a statement of animus by a major American corporation against the beliefs of millions of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox citizens.” Can you even imagine the outcry and potential repercussions were Apple to refuse to sell an iPhone app that, for example, allowed Muslims to enhance their study of the Qur’an? In a culture that shrugs at such a clear statement of hostility, is it any wonder that judges and chief executives have become so brazen in their efforts to repeatedly strike down the clear will of the American people?

As I consider the sheer number (and steadily-increasing audacity) of these episodes, it is tempting to become very discouraged, to question the sovereign power of God, or to wonder if God’s good plan for the redemption of humanity has gone sideways somehow. However, I think this is perhaps one of two mistakes we are prone to making whenever we consider how to respond to an increasingly-hostile culture. One mistake is to lash out and further prove to those around us just how intolerant we really are. The other mistake – far more serious, in my estimation – is to begin to wonder if God is “asleep at the switch” somehow, allowing a country founded on the Judeo-Christian worldview to slide into the abyss of moral relativism.

Christopher B. Hays is the D. Wilson Moore Assistant Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and a former editor at Newsday and The Sacramento Bee. On Feb. 25, Hays published what I found to be an excellent article entitled The Folly of Answering Fools for Christianity Today. In the article, Hays reminds us that deliberately seeking after Christian moral outrage has elevated many books, films and other works of art from relative obscurity to bestseller status. One case in point: The Da Vinci Code.

One easy way for an author to break out is to offend Christians – easier, apparently, than writing something beautiful or profound. Literary merit cannot explain the meteoric rise of mediocrities like Dan Brown. Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) called Brown’s novels “the intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese,” and each of The Da Vinci Code’s predecessors sold fewer than 10,000 copies. To rise above the billowing waves of culture, the latter-day Voltaire need only to offend a small-but-vocal subset of Christians.

You get the point, yes? Prior to high-volume Christian outrage, Dan Brown was a literary ne’er-do-well who sold a few books here and there to an extremely small audience. Once we Christians rose up in record numbers to condemn what is, after all, a very silly and unconvincing piece of fiction, booksellers could hardly keep the title in stock. And it is the same with everything else we condemn with heated rhetoric; we unwittingly call some piece of dreck to the attention of more and more people. As Hays sums up, “Apparently if Christians hate it, it must be worth a look.”

I encourage everyone to read the Hays article in its entirety. In the meantime, I’d like to suggest that anytime we rise up and offer an extraordinarily angry response to some new moral outrage, we may well betray a lack of confidence in the sovereignty of God and the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our anger may often be fueled by fear, a fear not only for the future of our society (which is all well and good, and something we should act upon), but more than that…a fear that something has gone horribly wrong in redemptive history.

Whenever I am tempted to doubt that God is in control or to revile someone for deliberately defaming the name of Christ, I am reminded of the prophet Habakkuk, and I take great comfort from reading this short book of the Bible. Like modern-day Americans, perhaps, Habakkuk begins his account of God’s redemptive work by complaining to the Lord over all the injustice and immorality he sees everywhere in ancient Israel. Has God gone blind to the sins of his chosen people?

Habakkuk 1:2-4 (ESV)
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

Does this sound at all like something we could easily be praying in 21st-century America? Before you answer with an enthusiastic, “Heck, yes!” we would do well to remind ourselves that God answered the cry of Habakkuk by raising up the Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation,” to take the people of Israel into captivity. In simple terms, God used the fierce Chaldean army to execute judgment on a lawless and God-dishonoring society. I have to think this was not the answer to prayer that the prophet was looking for. Instead, much like us, he probably was praying that the people of God would come to widespread repentance and that a revived hunger for loving and honoring God would take hold.

If, like me, you are at all sobered by the ways – both wonderful and horrific – in which God chooses to answer prayer, and if you share at all my concern for the increasingly-rapid decline we are witnessing in our culture, I’d like to suggest that perhaps one answer is for us to yell less at other people (as Hays would seem to suggest) and cry out more regularly to God (as Habakkuk might). Simply stated, “Yell less…pray more.”

God is not at all surprised by the decline and fall of civilizations throughout the sweep of human history. It does not catch Him “off guard” when His name is reviled or when open hostility toward Him is allowed to stand unchallenged. What God has already ordained to happen…will happen. Much like Habakkuk, I pray for revival in our communities and in our nation. When Habakkuk cried out to God on behalf of his nation, God sent in the Chaldeans. How will our prayers for deliverance from a culture obsessed with the worship of sex, violence and money be heard?

Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV)
Remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose.’

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