On Losing Heart
"Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision." — Ezekiel 12:22-23
"In spite of failures which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present aspect of affairs, do I despair the future? The truth is this, the march of Providence is so slow, our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense, and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope." — Robert E. Lee
While it may seem Southern overreaching to set quotations from Ezekiel and Robert E. Lee side by side, it’s really not. They deal with the same problem: how do we keep up our courage when God moves so slowly and mysteriously to do justice, to punish the wicked, and to build his kingdom?
Living in a degenerate age is not easy. On one hand we have to fight the temptation, both overt and covert, to be conformed to the spirit of the age. On the other hand, we have to resist the depression born of fighting what appears to be a rear guard action.
THE END IS NOT IN DOUBT...
Here let me make myself very clear. None of us has any reason to doubt Christ’s eventual and total victory. Little by little, wave by wave, the whole earth, every creature, and surely every man will bow to his rule, “for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” That is not the sort of doubt I mean.
Rather, I mean the doubt and depression which must attend the “ebbing of the advancing wave.” For reasons mysterious and hidden in the will of God, he advances his works unevenly. After great progress, he sometimes allows society to fall into widespread degeneracy. At times he appears to have abandoned the field altogether, and the progress of mankind’s redemption seems to have ceased.
...JUST THE MIDDLE
Viewing the whole sweep of history our faith, reason, and calm deliberation deny even the possibility of his failing, but we don’t live in the whole sweep of history. We live day by day, and we know only our little workbench. And while I believe that the Spirit of God and his Church are even today accomplishing all his holy will, my eyes and ears witness only evil everywhere. Worse yet, the most grotesque evils shamelessly preen themselves as righteousness.
- Murdering newborns and unborns is a “right”, while sodomy and every unnatural vice smugly demand equality with honest marriage.
- For the few remaining heterosexuals (there must be about eight of us left), all of the cultural apparat—movie, TV, literature, radio, newspaper, education, science, and government—portray the whole goal and end of being as an indulgence of lust energetic enough to wear down a sexually maniacal housefly in heat.
- If you apprehend this view as a bizarre perversion of God’s gifts, then you automatically place yourself outside the Mainstream of Western Thought.
- The ordained social order is overturned, natural hierarchy and patriarchy contemned, and every ignorant and insignificant worm asserts his autonomy and equality with the noblest and wisest.
- The last Western statesmen died about a century ago, while our public men today are noteworthy solely for their unembarrassed corruption. The chief magistrates of leading nations, particularly our own, are, morally, not just vile but puking vile. Intellectually and philosophically, not one of them aspires to anything as lofty as mediocrity.
- Western society accepts as man’s highest goal a materialism so crass it can only be called institutionalised greed and sensuality.
- Western high culture has decayed from Bach to Rap. Literature and the visual arts portray an incomprehensible absurdity (amusing as they may be to us Philistines) or wallow in whining self-pity, offering the two best contemporary arguments for euthanasia.
- The religious sense of Western civilisation has been relentlessly stripped of Christianity, for which has been substituted superstitious, spiritualist, and pantheistic blather. In their official acts, Western governments like nothing better than thumbing their noses at heaven.
- Much of Christ’s church has fallen into a pitiful and pointless apostasy, blasphemous and baffled in unbelief. Theology and worship have been replaced by spiritual break dancing, exalted and unashamed self-centeredness, and drool-flecked mumbling about the equality of all “religious traditions.”
This is the wide world in which we live.
MEANWHILE AT HOME
At my own workbench things are not any better (substitute here, dear reader, yours for mine). You could hardly imagine anyone more out of step with the times, or more unsuccessful.
For nearly 30 years I have fought for hard money—legal and constitutional gold and silver currency. I oppose usury and the debt-slave economy that produces our “prosperity.” It would be hard to name any position, economic or philosophic, more hopelessly irreconcilable to our present government, society, and economy. We simply cannot have both hard money and our present financial system simultaneously; that is impossible. On top of that, the financial system I find fault with has made millions [believe they are] wealthy while blowing up the biggest financial bubble in the history of mankind.
For 25 years I fought the Internal Revenue Service, and even beat them in court (by the grace of God). But that victory freed no one but the other defendants, my family, and me. The brazenly illegal income tax still stands.
For 15 years I have warned about the erosion of privacy, but still we have gotten the national Surveillance State, complete with helicopter flyovers, random roadblocks and military-style police who demand, “Papers, please!” from peaceful and unoffending citizens. And now we have the Patriot Act and its Frankenstein progeny.
For 15 years I have warned about the concentration of power in the federal government, but instead of devolution we got first Bush and then Clinton, and now Bush again.
In short, you could hardly name a reformation issue that I have not from time to time worked for over the past two or three decades. As far as outward success is concerned, the fight is hotter today than ever. About the only “victory” I can claim is that the battle, at least, still rages on, and has not yet been lost.
Oh, yes, there’s one more victory. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I haven’t changed, and neither has the truth.
Now in the face of all that, as a spiritual anodyne you can’t offer any thoughtful person some sweetsy-cutesy, Sunday School kiss-off—“Well, this, too, shall pass away.” Look, the Mongols have just ridden up into the front yard, and they are not brandishing Nerf-swords. Those are real swords and real torches, and today your religion must prove itself “where the rubber meets the road.”
But this meditation doesn’t concern just me. For every Christian in every age, life is warfare. In our age, fighting the fight you must fight, depression is an ever-present temptation. You fight, and you lose. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, pick up your broken weapons, mend them, and throw yourself into the battle again. You lose again. They whip the fool out of you, and probably with underhanded trickery. You dust yourself off, and go back into the fight.
This happens ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred times. You keep on losing. Finally, you begin to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What good does it do? Nobody in the world believes the way I believe. All my efforts haven’t changed a thing. Maybe times have changed. Maybe I’m wrong, and the other side is right.”
All of that is a lie.
Eternal things are eternal still. The truth never changes.
The liars and murderers and usurers and frauds presently running this country want you to believe that they can’t be beaten. They want you to think that they are the wave of the future and you are a relic of the past.
But eternal things are eternal still. The truth never changes, and the truth always makes you choose sides.
You’re not the first one to be downcast. But you are confusing God’s mercy and patience with his tolerance of wickedness. You are mistakenly assuming that because God forbears to do justice for a time that he will neglect justice altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth. God may delay, but he will do justice.
GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE: CHURCH and FAMILY
The scriptures tell us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christ’s church. Gates are defensive, built to keep somebody out. Obviously, the church in this picture is operating on the offensive, not defensive. The Christian life—Christian warfare—demands of us an offensive strategy and tactics. Today that Christian offense must be waged by, for, and through two institutions: the church and the family.
The church, because to it has been committed the only means of changing the world, the good news of the Gospel. It is the community of the faithful, outside which there is no salvation. By the Gospel, and only the Gospel, can the hearts and minds of men be changed. All other efforts at permanent change are doomed experiments in legalism that misapprehend the nature of man and his need. At Lent in 1497 Savonarola convinced the Florentines to burn all their sorcery books, charms, personal ornaments, lewd pictures, cards and gaming tables in the Bonfire of the Vanities. A year later they just as enthusiastically consigned him to the flames.
The family, because God created it as the first institution of government. For nearly all of us, it is the institution closest to us and most subject to our labour and influence. The family, because within its nurturing arms are raised the next generation of Christian soldiers.
But you’ve left out the civil government, Franklin, that third great institution God ordained for ruling mankind.
Yes, but not because I deny its importance, or even the legitimacy and necessity of Christians labouring in politics. Rather, I measure its relative importance by logic and my own experience. If the family is lost, my own family, then I have failed at that duty nearest to me. On busy Central Avenue in Memphis for years and years there was a small sign on the side of a building just west of Cooper Avenue. That sign read, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?
I have expended a vast wealth of energy fighting with the state, and accomplished almost nothing. That is not a battle for lone guerrilla warriors. As yet, there is no constituency to make such resistance successful. (The only political party with any integrity is the Constitution [formerly Taxpayers’] party.)
And why is the constituency lacking? Because the people have no heart for righteousness. Oh, they may applaud “moral reform” out of the “Book of Virtues” and cutting off all the lazy welfare bums, but after the same fashion that Dr. Kellogg recommended you eat more bran—anything that uncomfortable must be good for you. That constitutes the uttermost limit of the American public’s desire for reformation.
Without the heart-and-will-changing Gospel, such reforms are doomed to short, shallow, and fruitless lives. I hired on for eternity, not for next month. Once Americans have a heart Gospel-trained for righteousness, then they will inevitably establish righteousness in their civil government.
Besides, civil government does not act, but reacts, punishing evil deeds and rewarding righteousness. It contributes the necessary but not sufficient condition. Before that comes the church which acts to establish righteousness in the hearts of men.
ONE WAY, TWO GOALS
What Gospel did Jesus preach? The Gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 4:23; Mark 1:14; Luke 16:16; 17:20-21; John 3:5). Not the kingdom in the sweet by and by, but the kingdom that is “at hand.” Here. Now. Within you. The kingdom like leaven and mustard seed, that grows and grows until it fills everything, forever. The kingdom has already come. The kingdom is here and now. It is the one way we must live.
But besides our personal obedience, how do we apply that in society? In two ways: alternative institutions and changing worldview.
After the 1905 revolution failed in Russia, Lenin published an essay, “What Must Be Done?” Since direct, violent revolution had failed, how should the revolutionaries carry forward? By creating alternative institutions to replace existing state institutions. As state institutions, indeed, the state itself, lost credibility before the people, the alternative revolutionary institutions would present themselves as replacements.
In 1920 the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci (GRAM-shee) went to visit Lenin’s Revolutionary Russia, and he didn’t like what he saw. Radical communism clashed too hard against the Russian soul. Rather than violent revolution, Gramsci recommended the “long march through the institutions.” If socialists could change individuals’ worldview (especially the machinery of culture, the media and education which form the thinking of others) so that they thought like socialists, then eventually the revolution would triumph.
Both Lenin and Gramsci were successful, but not because of their originality. Both prescriptions for conquering society had already been taught by Christ, practised by the church, and transformed Western civilisation.
IN THE POST-CHRISTIAN PRESENT
Today we live in a post-Christian world. I don’t believe those most existing institutions—civil government, finance, and education, for example—can be redeemed. Their sickness has rotted them clean to the bone, so that nothing is left to heal. The quicker we remove our sanction, the better. We have to create alternatives in culture, arts, education, government, medicine, every institution that forms and certifies—new institutions ready to serve society when the old collapse. I certainly don’t mean a fanatical Christian ideology that is merely the mirror image of socialist/fascist/totalitarian ideology. We have to live out, practice, and elaborate a Christian worldview so winsome that pagan minds and hearts recognise its superiority and long to share it.
TEMPTED TO DESPAIR, TAUGHT TO HOPE
Like Ezekiel and Robert E. Lee before us, we are tempted to lose hope if we keep our eyes too close to the ground. We are the children of eternity, not time. Centuries must form our horizon, not years. On that horizon our God goes before us in victory.
Let all things now living
a song of thanksgiving
to God the Creator triumphantly raise.
Who fashioned and made us,
Protected and stayed us,
Who guided us onto the end of our days.
His banners are o’er us,
His light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth through the night
Till shadows have vanished
And darkness is banished,
As forward we travel from light unto light.
Originally published December 2006