The New York Daily News responded to President Trump’s Oval Office address on border security with a cover depicting the president as a screaming baby in a temper tantrum. The headline reads: “It’s Wall About Me.” Talk show hosts and Hollywood celebrities also panned the president’s remarks.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi came in for ridicule as well. After their response to the president’s speech, one critic likened them to “the creepy twins from The Shining.”
Are you surprised by any of this?
In other news, Rider University in New Jersey recently asked students what fast-food restaurant they would like to see on campus. Once it became clear that Chick-fil-A was their choice, the school’s leaders excluded this option, citing concerns over the company’s alleged attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.
Chick-fil-A’s spokesman responded: “We have no policy of discrimination against any group.”
Clearly, Rider University’s leaders cannot say the same.
“Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads”
We can respond to our divisive, post-Christian culture in one of three ways: we can condemn those who disagree with us, we can condone behavior the Bible forbids, or we can speak the truth with compassion.
Here’s why God’s people should always choose the third option.
After the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile, some of them married Gentile women, a clear violation of God’s word (cf. Exodus 34:11-16). Ezra, their priestly leader, was a man of impeccable personal integrity (cf. Ezra 7:10). Nonetheless, when he learned of the people’s sin, he prayed: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6, my italics).
Note Ezra’s remarkable solidarity with his people. Even though he had not committed their sins, he identified with their need to repent.
When the children of Israel worshiped a golden calf, Moses interceded for them: “If you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exodus 32:32). Paul said of his Jewish people: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).
Solidarity with our sinful culture is the consistent model of biblical leaders. Why should we follow their example?
One: Judgment affects us all
Jeremiah urgently warned his people that divine judgment was coming, but they refused to repent. When judgment came, he was exiled as well (Jeremiah 43).
Daniel and his friends were deported from Judah to Babylon, though they were not complicit in the sins that led to their country’s downfall (Daniel 1). The same happened to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3).
Jesus mourned Jerusalem’s rejection of their prophets and Messiah (Luke 19:41-44), predicting her destruction as punishment for her sins. The city fell as a consequence in AD 70. At least five thousand Christian families had made the city their home (Acts 4:4); when Jerusalem was destroyed, those who were still living there suffered along with the rest of her residents.
Two: We are “the light of the world”
Jesus’ statement to his disciples must have shocked those who heard it: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). “The” indicates that there is no other “light of the world” except the witness and ministry of Christians.
As a result, our influence on our secular culture is urgent.
In Ezekiel 33, the Lord describes the prophet as the “watchman” of his people (v. 2). If anyone hears his message but does not respond, “his blood shall be upon his own head” (v. 4). But if the watchman does not warn the people and one of them falls, “that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (v. 6).
This is a complex text, but at least it highlights the urgency of our witness to our culture. We are not at fault when people reject our message, but we are responsible for making sure they hear it.
If I’m holding the only flashlight in a dark room, should I not do all I can to help others see?
Three: Jesus calls us to compassion
When Jesus cast a demon out of a man, “the Pharisees said, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons'” (Matthew 9:34). His family once said of him, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). At one point, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, “all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). You know the rejection of the crowds, the mocking of the religious leaders, and the horrific torture he then endured. Has any person in human history been more unfairly treated?
And yet, Jesus prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He had such compassion for the people (Matthew 9:36) that he died for them (Romans 5:8).
Now he calls us to follow his example: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). With this promise: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35).
Thermostats or thermometers?
We can expect our post-Christian culture to continue and even escalate its denunciation of Christian morality. However, one of the ironies of our faith is that the more we are rejected, the more we are needed.
You and I are called to be spiritual thermostats, not thermometers. Our mission is not to reflect the environment around us but to change it.
If the church’s response to the culture is predicated on the culture’s response to the church, we’ll never be the catalysts for transformation God intends us to be.
Who needs the compassion of your witness and ministry today?
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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Publication Date: January 10, 2019
Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Alex Wong/Staff