Not everyone believes ideas can bring liberation but I do. The phrase, “nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come” stirs me. I remember the first time I heard a now well-worn quote from Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was a Dutch pastor, an academic, a journalist, a politician who became Prime Minister of the Netherlands, a man of great energy and many interests and talents. His well-worn phrase? Kuyper declared, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’”
For those suffering within a Christian ethos which calls what it finds distasteful or complicated, ‘of the Devil,’ there is great liberation in the knowledge that nothing in life, nothing which God once created, is ‘of the Devil.’ The Devil warps but he cannot create and any claim he may have had on any area of human life, no-matter how broken, no-matter how twisted it may have become, was utterly defeated on Calvary’s cross. Do you not find this liberating? There is nothing which God made and once called ‘very good!’ (tov meod!) on which God has given up. Not theater, not work, not government, not movies or dancing or cards. Or sex. Or you and me. Nothing, finally, is ‘worldly.’ Things are present in the world, yes, but they not of or from the dying old world. Even the world is not, finally, worldly!
Barbara Brown Taylor in her An Altar in the World writes about her long and exquisite struggle with God over her vocation. What was she meant to do? She remembers well the day when in the midst of anguished, groaning prayer, the Word of God came to her saying essentially ‘Do whatever suits you; whatever gives you pleasure.’ What was important was not what was fit work but how anything can be fit work or not. It is how you be a preacher, a teacher or a cocktail waitress that determines whether you bring that vocation to the king as faithful tribute, or not.
This news was both liberating and troubling news for her as it once was to me. So, how do I figure out what suits me? I remember the day, not so many years ago that my friend Alan acted as God’s mediator, bringing liberating news. It seems, ol’ ADD Boy, here, had spent years and years trying to satisfy his myriad interests in this and that, a perfect dilettante who could never settle on a vocation. I remember saying to Alan, “The trouble is, I am interested in everything but I do not have anything that holds my interest for very long.”
“That’s not true,” said Alan, matter-of-factly. “Biblical studies has always been your passion and you have come back to it, again and again.”
On that afternoon we were just having a conversation with our wives, the sort of pleasant exchange which passes politely between people during the visit of long-distance friends. I, however, was paying attention and heard a Word from the Lord.
Several years later I gave Alan a small “trophy” which I made myself – yes, I know; I have no real talent for trophy-making. The inscription on it reads something like,
A true friend is someone who knows your song and can sing it for you when you have forgotten the words.
Alan’s words contained an idea which liberated me. At about age 45, I figured out what to do when I grew up.
If you have read any of my previous posts or if you have taken courses from me, you know some of the other ideas which I have found liberating. Take, for instance, the framework I have described elsewhere as “Structure and Direction.” This idea has everything to do with how I see life: a good creation, going the wrong way.
When I last presented “Structure and Direction” in a post, it was in a somewhat dry and theoretical frame. Believe, me, there is nothing dry about this in practice. “Structure and Direction” is why there is always a good reason to get out of bed every day; it’s why Christians can and should become motivated to take on any thorny problem anywhere in creation because nothing is beyond the pale; nothing is so bad that we should stay away.
Even politics. Sure, the direction of politics for a long time may have been dirty and worldly but political service is still structurally good work within which Christians may find their calling.
There is an old story about Jimmy Carter going to his sister, evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, seeking advice. Carter was considering getting into politics. What did Ruth think about that? According to the account, she said, “Don’t do it, Jimmy. Don’t do it! Politics is a dirty, worldly business!”
I recently began reading a book which was lent to me by one of my students. It is by a well-known Twin City pastor and it’s all about why he is not a gung-ho right-winger, politically. I have not finished the book but his first main point is disappointing. He says he cannot get exited about politics per se, because government is something, according to his reading of the scriptures, where God just uses something, namely government, but without really endorsing its use by God’s people.
Pause with me, please and shake your head. So God just finds this thing, “government” which God did not make, just laying around? God just places government where he wants it but he found it on the grass or in the dump? The author even quotes a favorite author of mine, John Howard Yoder, as saying, the Greek verb in Paul’s treatment shows God just institues government; God did not create government. While technically correct about a Greek verb, they are missing the point of the story.
This is one of those times where the book’s author as well as Yoder are relying on the Greek language and its context when they should be going back into the Hebrew. The entire Greek mythology lends itself to their view but the Hebrew story of God does not at all. The word “theos” (god) in Greek comes from a root which means “to place.” So the Greek gods are known as “the placers.” They came to town long after “town” was created, won a war over those in charge and then the gods, the new lords, got to decide where everything got “placed.” Sure, “theos” is the Greek word which usually translates the Hebrew words for “god” in the Greek translation of Torah. However, the first thing we learn in Torah about the Old Testament “theos” is that he did not just place; he created and not just this and not that. Indeed, we are eventually told there is nothing which exists which the Creator-God did not create.
In other words, God created the conditions for human life, for advanced, complex, after-one-family-in-the-garden life, including all the structures and methods for governing. And so even if there had been no rebellion, no sin and no Fall, at a certain point, human life, with its very naturally competing interests among parties and groups who do not know each other well, would require some rules, which means somebody needs to decide on those rules and someone needs to make signs and to post them. Even if sinless human society would have needed no more government than the “Shirrifs” of Tolkien’s “Shire,” someone would have needed to get stray kittens out of trees. The author and Dr. Yoder have adopted one of the worst ideas within anabaptist thinking, that there is something in creation, namely government, which is actually, innately, worldly.
No, no, no. Although the second Genesis creation story only gives us Torah/wisdom concerning the institution of marriage, each and every other institution, that is, every structure in creation, flows from one man and one woman becoming one flesh. Babies, babies and more babies mean, over time, greater and greater complexity in human society. God does not just find institutions which the Titans created and use them, place them. God created the entire framework for the complexity which would occur once the people outgrew the incubation unit (Eden) and spread out, as they were commanded to do, over the entire earth. God created the means for and the structure of government; he did not use something created by who-knows-who. God created government.
And what God once created, God will redeem. And we are called to be in the midst of that redemptive activity. No-matter how misdirected a thing may presently be, its structure is still from God and it will be made new. It is up to Christians, in community, over time, to conscientiously take politics in a godly direction. It has been done before, somewhat. It will be again, because all creation will be redeemed.
Is that a liberating idea? Well, I should say so!
The next post? Beliefs I no-longer believe.