In a World Gone Crazy

In a world gone crazy, it is important for us to learn how to see the root causes. I use the phrase “root causes” deliberately, because it is the kind of thing that liberals love to appeal to, whether we are talking about race riots here, or barbarity in the Middle East. But when they get to talking about root causes and the “broader context” of whatever outrage it is, they invariably veer toward their programs which desperately need more funding.

The root cause is sin — high handed sin in the first instance, and a quiet and mousy enabling sin in the second. What we are talking about is basic — evil behavior in the first instance, and bewilderment about what to do about it in the other. We are now seeing on the national and international stage, over and over again, the same realities that play out when a three-year-old flips out in a restaurant because he didn’t want that kind of ice cream, and his hapless parents are completely and utterly at a loss about what to do about it.

All of these issues are matters of understanding the moral center, and the attendant issues of discipline, strength, incentives, disincentives, resolve, and leading from somewhere other than from behind.

Whether it is a micro issue or a global one, life is a power struggle. There are those with power, and there are those who want it. There are those with power, and there are those who have figured out that those with power don’t know what to do with it. There is right-handed power, Putin-like, which God hates, and there is also limp-wristed power, Obama-like, which God detests. Then there are the bad actors who decide to make the challenge. You show weakness and in about fifteen seconds the challenges come.

And of course every Christian knows that we must distinguish the weakness of the cross, which is true strength, from the weakness of timidity. Christ before His accusers was silent, and He overthrew them all. Belshazzar went weak in the knees at the written word that came to him, and he was overthrown that night. A great deal of weakness is not the hidden wisdom of God. A great deal of weakness is just the manifest folly of man.

ISIS has apparently beheaded an American journalist, James Foley, and threatens to behead another one. Aside from everything else involved in this, who does not see this as a challenge, a taunt, a “what are you going to do about it?” An appropriate response should not be medium level, moderated disapproval by a ditz at the State Department.

When the governor of Missouri calls for “vigorous prosecution” of the the police officer who shot Michael Brown, we all need to know that it is because the evidence demands an indictment. We need to know that it is not because a part of his state is burning down, he is starting to look bad, and he needs a sacrificial lamb. But that is plainly something we do not know. A thousand people in the street with their hands up in a universal sign of surrender does not mean that is what Michael Brown was doing with his hands moments before he was shot. But we do know what Pilate did with his hands — he washed them because a mob was yelling.

If Darren Wilson did an indefensible thing, he should be prosecuted for it. Absolutely. And if Michael Brown did an indefensible thing, we should find out what it was, and there put the matter to rest.

And in the meantime, we need to pray for leaders who understand the world that God made, a world of cause and effect.

The Willies and the Fantods

One of the things I do from time to time is draw lessons for the United States from the history of Israel in the Old Testament. I know that this must exasperate some good folks, making them dance beside their computers in frustration, exclaiming to their ceiling fan that I clearly don’t know that America is not the chosen nation, that the old covenant is not the new covenant, that baptism is not circumcision, and so on.

But actually I do know, appreciate, embrace and love all those distinctions. Yay for all of that. Something else is going on, which I will touch on briefly. Then I will say something about how we can, at the very least, still talk this way on the basis of story. And then I will apply a lesson from ancient Israel to the current cultural morass we find ourselves in.

The church is no longer “confined to one nation, as before under the law” (WCF 25.2). This does not mean that God’s Word in the Old Testament now applies to no nation, but rather that it applies, through the gospel, to every nation. To apply the fulfillment of all the blessings purchased by Christ to a modern nation is only a theological violation if we tried to limit that to one nation, as in “our own”. But the Deuteronomic blessings have already been enjoyed by multiple nations, and, as the gospel progresses, will be enjoyed by many more.

But let us say that you have not (yet) been persuaded to drink the postmill circus water. Let us say that the thought of baptizing babies still gives you both the willies and the fantods. Let us grant that you don’t want to get swept up in an overrealized eschatology. I mean, who wants that?

We can still take the lessons we need to take from the Old Testament because God is still the same God, and people, at their best, are still the same old dufflepuds. At the very least, we should still be gaining wisdom from the older Word in the same way that we can learn from Wormtongue and Theoden, from Shift and Puzzle, and from the dragon and St. George. We are so far gone that we don’t believe in the authority of stories anymore.

“The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt . . . The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways” (Deut. 28:27–29).

Like a Fist

As Iraq continues to spiral toward chaos, and is doing so in the Facebook era, the one thing we should want to avoid is directionless or aimless outrage. Anger under such circumstances is certainly appropriate and necessary, but like a fist, it needs somewhere to land. I am writing primarily about the treatment of Christians there by ISIS, but of course that cannot be at all separated from a host of other issues and circumstances. Let me start with the more important, and finish with a few related observations.

1. There truly are evil men in the world, and this is what imprecatory psalms were made for. This is why we have them. There are men who will grin for the camera over the prospect of beheading Christian children, and our response to them should be to pray the words of God back to Him.

“Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord” (Ps. 58:6).

“Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: Seek out his wickedness till thou find none” (Ps. 10:15).

Our psalter has this second example rendered as “O God, come down and break their evil arms.” In the face of the kind of evil that is abroad in the world, evangelical Christians need to stop filling up their worship services with sentimentalist treacle, and worship biblically in a very dark world. We are confronted with a great and growing evil, and we are discovering that we do not have the liturgical vocabulary to respond appropriately at all. When we sing or pray the psalms, all of them, there are two consequences that should be mentioned. One, we are praying in the will of God, and He hears such prayers. Second, we discover that praying and singing biblically transforms us. This really is the need of the hour.

We need to become the kind of people capable of standing against this kind of thing. Read Chesterton’s great poem about the battle of Lepanto, written one year shy of a century ago, and plead with God to raise up a fitting leader for our day. “But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.”

The Root of the Disease

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt writes this:

“Without Jewish help in administrative and police work — the final rounding up of Jews in Berlin was, as I have mentioned, done entirely by Jewish police — there would have been either complete chaos or an impossibly severe drain on German manpower” (p. 117).

She goes on to quote someone who observed that it was scarcely possible for a few thousand people, most of whom worked in offices, to liquidate many hundreds of thousands of other people without the cooperation of the victims. Moreover, that cooperation frequently consisted of participation in the bureaucratic processing. Before being gassed in the camps, they had to stand in line and fill out numerous forms.

The subtitle of Arendt’s book is telling: “A Report on the Banality of Evil.”

Or, to look at the threat another way, we also have to remember the banality of bureaucracy. At root it is the same banality.

Here is Lewis in the Preface of Screwtape:

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

The Dems are talking up the prospect of impeachment for the president right now because they know what a loser issue that would be for the Republicans, and the Democrats desperately need for the Republicans to obtain for themselves a loser issue that can be wrapped around their necks. They are able to talk it up because even though the Republican leadership is (wisely) dismissing such talk with contempt, there is a high level of frustration with the president’s behavior in the Republican base. The leadership is attempting to vent this frustration with their lawsuit, seeking to head off any talk of impeachment. The last go round with all this, when Clinton was impeached, was disastrous for the Republicans, because they treated ordinary politics as though it were something else. When you start killing ants with a baseball bat, the rest of the story will not go well for you.

For our foreign readers, in our system a president is impeached when the House of Representatives brings articles of impeachment. It is like being indicted — the trial is yet to happen. The House prosecutes the case, and the Senate serves as the jury. Thus when a president is impeached by the House, he will then be convicted (or not) by the Senate.

Up to this point in our history, impeachment has only been on the table three times. The first was when Andrew Johnson was impeached, and barely escaped being removed from office. But this was in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, when something like impeachment was comparatively small beer. The second time was when Richard Nixon saw the handwriting on the wall, and resigned rather than face removal from office. He knew that if his case went before the Senate, there was a high likelihood that he would be convicted. The third time happened with Bill Clinton. He was impeached, but not convicted, and the Republicans had to deal with significant blowback for making the attempt.

A peach for our president.

A peach for our president.

In the modern era, the only way impeachment could possibly obtain a conviction would be if the entire country were overwhelmingly united behind the effort. This would have to include both the House and Senate being ready to convict, and it would also be necessary to have the mainstream media — The Washington Post, The New York Times, the major networks, etc. — all calling for the president’s head as well. And let us be honest, you and I. The only way the mainstream media would be at all behind the impeachment of President Obama would be if, at the State of the Union address, the president pulled off his rubber mask and announced that he was an alien creepizoid from the Planet Kenya. And even then, it would be touch and go.

So the reason Republicans (whether in the leadership or in the base) ought not to be talking about impeachment right now is that they don’t have the resources (Luke 14:31). As St. Augustine once succinctly put it in his treatise on just war, don’t start what you can’t finish.

America’s Udder

The reason we have an immigration problem is not because we are welcoming people to America, but rather what kind of America we are welcoming them to. This in turn has an effect on what kind of people seek to be welcomed here, which then provokes the wrong kind of reaction on our part, and which results in a series of actions and reactions not unlike a child’s party balloon that was not tied off yet but was over-inflated, and then let go.

We have two presenting issues on our southern border. One is the border security itself, and the other is all the stuff we are doing that creates the need for border

A low-information voter, weighing his options.

A low-information voter, weighing his options.

security in the first place. What we are doing wrong would include, but not be limited to, anchor babies, food stamps, other forms of welfare, free education, and so on. You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you don’t. There are very few things quite as destructive as American good intentions. If we then add to the mix the problems caused by American bad intentions, everything gets really complicated. What would happen to the drug cartels if Americans quit snorting their happy powder? And, incidentally, that problem is not going to be solved by a federal “war on drugs,” what a joke, but rather by Americans doing what previous generations of Christians used to quaintly call “repenting.” A whole host of our “political” problems have no political solution.

Back to immigration. In the current set-up, conservatives have a point when they say that we need to get control of the border first, and then talk about what to do with the millions of ille . . . oops, almost did a bad thing . . . undocumented ali . . . oops . . . what a klutz I am being this morning . . . undocumented personages. Ah, for the halcyon days when folks could just say wetbacks and nobody minded!

Let me take a brief moment to explain that I was not using the word wetback there, but rather was observing that there was a time back in Eisenhower’s day when other people did that kind of thing, and what I did was all in the third person, and so I would suggest, with all appropriate modesty, that I should not be arrested for merely reporting on these facts. Yes, someone might reply, but you were being simultaneously provocative and coy, and we are on to your tricks. You were really making a point that was plainly critical of the current diktats of our most revered speech police, and therein lies your real crime. Well, yes, I guess I was doing that. That is my real crime. I do confess it.

A Pretty Firm Grip on the Ears

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to preface my remarks with any of these qualifications, but then again, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have our perennial crisis in the Middle East. And so it would be that I would not have to say anything at all . . . in a perfect world.

But here are the qualifications. Israel is a sinful nation, and they need to hear the message of Christ desperately. They are a Western nation, transplanted by Zionists into a troubled part of the world, said transplanting not commending itself to me as having been a good idea. They share the strengths of the West, as well as all the decadent weaknesses. They are in an extraordinarily challenging situation, largely created by the lords of the earth drawing hubristic lines on the map after the First World War. In short, they have a grizzly bear by the ears. On the bright side, they currently have a pretty firm grip on those ears, but the long term prospects are not rosy.

I say all that as a preface so that I might give as resounding a statement of support for Israel in the current conflict as I possibly can. One of the deadliest traps in analyzing conflicts between nations is arbitrarily to postulate moral equivalence where there is none. There are multiple situations where a “faults on both sides” approach just won’t cut it, and this is one of them. If you want to know the difference we are dealing with, Israel uses its missiles to defend its children, while Hamas uses its children to defend its missiles. That’s all you really need to know about this conflict.

I have gone over this before, but it needs to be said again and again. Terrorism is not to be defined as what the big army accuses the little army of doing. That is way too facile. Hamas targets civilians deliberately, as a matter of cold policy, as a matter of course. Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to prevent civilian

Trolling for aggression in Gaza.

Trolling for aggression in Gaza.

casualties. Simply on the basis of what both sides openly commit themselves to, we should be able to take it from there. We should simply condemn the avowed depravity of Hamas, and not allow them to distract anybody by wailing about “the conditions” that drove them to it. The conditions that drive them to these insanities are nothing but the smoking craters left over from the previous round of insanities.

On the Lam for Jesus

And of course we should all know that Christians ought not to be scofflaws. We are to be among the best citizens a magistrate ever had — we should be diligent and hard-working, dutiful and responsible, so that we might put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. We should bake the best cakes in Colorado, but not for the homo-fest, sorry.

But wait . . . doesn’t the Bible say that we must do whatever they say we must do — cakes, flowers, incense to Caesar, the works? Well, no (Acts 5:29).

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet. 2:13–17).

So let’s take a look at some of the actions of the man who wrote those words — and not in order to charge him with hypocrisy.

“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him” (Acts 12:7–10).

Peter then went over to John Mark’s house, left a message, and disappeared from the book of Acts a wanted man, on the lam, with his picture in all the post offices.

This was what we might call a jailbreak, and it was not just a bit of innocent fun. The guards involved were executed for negligence they had not been guilty of (Acts 12:19), and yet, despite the seriousness of the issues, Peter did not consult with a bunch of modern Christians, who would have urgently advised that he turn himself in — citing, as they did so, with tears in their eyes, 1 Peter 2:13-17.

An idea worth developing . . .

An idea worth developing . . .

What we desperately need in these times of amoral chaos is recognize that the obedience of the Christian man will frequently be taken by tyrants as something other than the righteous obedience before God that it actually is. What did Jehoiada do? He honored the king. What did Athaliah call it? She called it treason (2 Kings 11:14). While we are not surprised that she would call it that, we are surprised that lots of modern Christian political theory listens to her.

I am reminded of that great line in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. “Sir, you speak treason!” “Fluently.”