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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On Having Hope And Being Hopeless

The Scriptures assure Christians that they have a living hope. That hope is Jesus who will return. And in this sense, everybody who belongs to Christ should be hopeful about the future--the distant future that is.

And in addition to that hope in the distant future is an assurance that God's sovereignty does limit the suffering we can experience today and in the near future. These two facts must be pillars in the lives of all who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

But if we care about the world in the way that God loves the world,  then why is the state of this world hopeless and getting worse? There are two reasons for this hopelessness. First, most with wealth and power are insane. John Lennon made this point about our world leaders. If Lennon was alive today, he could most certain say this about both Obama and Putin as they flirt with conflict while being armed with thousands of nuclear weapons.



Those whose wealth is derived from financial conquest and who care not for the welfare of the victims of that conquest should be put into John Lennon's insane leaders category. This is Chris Hedges' point in talking about the cult of the self.



How can one come to any other conclusion when what drove the world into the most devastating and inhumane war in history is being practiced today? This obsession with conquest and dominance in a world, even though today's conquests are mostly financial, where interdependence and an ever advancing and adulterous technology makes all of us more vulnerable shows us to be, as the Scriptures say, like "a dog that returns to its vomit." (see Proverbs 26:11). From this we can easily say that 'never again' was never learned, as was reported by a previous blogpost on this blog (click here).

And though we might not be one of those who search for such economic conquests, we are complicit with such takeovers when we do not object but prefer to ride on the financial coattails of those who seek to conquer. These financial coattails anesthetize us so that we feel neither the pain of others as they lose out nor the destruction of the environment stemming from our exploitation and abuse of the earth and its resources.

For Conservative Christians, part of our complicity is due to the failure of our churches' leadership to properly engage culture. For when it comes to social justice issues, the range of reactions from Conservative Christians is to either not engage or to engage with the intent of advancing a strict Christian agenda.  Their involvement is measured by the charts below with the social justice grid chart being a modification of a new model introduced during Friday's blogpost review of Tim Keller's Center Church model (click here).


Social Justice Grid

Personal Morality Grid

The horizontal axis represents the degree to which a group want society to either be libertarian or controlling through the use of law. So what the two charts together illustrate is this, much of the Conservative Church, the Two Kingdoms and the Transformationists to be specific, invest more in trying to get society to restrict the personal moral behavior of individuals than they do in getting society to control groups or even itself when it comes to social justice issues. This is shown by how both the Two Kingdoms and Transformationists adherents are located to the right on the Personal Morality Grid compared to their positions on the Social Justice Grid. In last Friday's chart, which was named the Social Gospel Grid, the Transformationists were located solely in the second quadrant. But as I thought about it, certain parties in the Transformationist group or model as Keller calls it, do not always push society to legally require the just treatment of others. Instead, they often want society to take a more libertarian approach to social justice issues. Social justice issues could include employees being paid a living wage and having the right to belong to a union, or that everybody has access to affordable healthcare and housing. Social justice issues could also include protection of the environment. 

Part of this overall approach by the Transformationists is due to conservative political values and their apathy or antagonism toward social justice issues. And even where conservative political values do not come into play, there is a tendency to have some kind of objection to legally demanding that people be treated justly or that the environment be protected. Thus there is a mixed record in demanding justice by Transformationists.

In addition, some use the Bible to justify not being involved in the culture and social justice issues. I Timothy 2:2 is often used to justify Christians living "quiet lives" where we does not get involved in the bigger matters of the world. Those who interpret passages like I Timothy 2:2 this way are forgetting the changes in the historical context between when Paul wrote I Timothy and today. Unlike Paul's time, because of the Christianity's influence on Western Civilization, Christianity can be easily associated with some of the injustices practiced in our part of the world. Thus, it becomes mandatory for Christians, not just for the sake of having compassion on others, to be involved at least for the reputation of the Gospel.

The two charts together show that if you are going to sin as an individual, you'll hear about it from most Conservative Christians. But if you participate in the committing of group sins, you will enjoy quite a bit of impunity from Conservative righteous indignation. And with this being true on domestic social issues, how much more true is it with foreign issues such as with the use of sweatshop labor, the use of trade agreements that benefit our businesses while destroying the ability of some countries to feed themselves, or imperial foreign policies and the use of our military in interventions and drone warfare? For those Transformationists who are not prevented by conservative politics to care about these issues, one has to ask, where is your presence on the streets? Do you know that it is strongly desired by those who are both religious and Leftists because it helps confirm part of what they believe Christianity is suppose to be about?

Of course, demanding social justice has a price. It offends many, though not all, who have wealth and power. And such offenses could cost the Conservative Church members and money. In addition, because of an unthinking adherence to the Conservative label, some Conservative Christians have trouble distinguishing religious and political Conservatism so that an attack on one seems like an attack on both. The cost of demanding social justice for such conservatives can mean a very tearing and painful remaking of oneself--something I experienced when I became a political leftist.

So it is easier for the Conservative Church to stress the future hope we have because of our faith in Jesus because such provides an escape from having to make certain choices. The tragedy here is that our real hope is used to escape reality rather than to give one strength to face a present but temporary reality. And this desire to escape reality is based on combining a consumer culture to faith where one is more willing to live in comfort rather than bear the fruit of the Spirit in the face of injustice.

How tragically ironic it is that the hope of the world has become a reason for hopelessness in today's perilous times.




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