Tell It Not in Gath

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There is little doubt in my mind that America is currently being chastised by the Lord, and He must have sent a great angel of frenzy upon us to do it. One of the evidences of such chastisement is that a goodly number of our leading lights and solons appear to have lost their minds. And in addition to all the confusions involved with that, the people generally are surging this way and that, and feelings run high, or hot, or both, and a lot of crazy things get said, or done, or both.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats, The Second Coming

The central issue we have to deal with is that of the frenzy—not the election, not the lock downs, not the masks. We may have views on such things, and indeed we must, as they are very important in themselves, but as we articulate those views, we must also keep our heads. The election, lock downs, and masks, and whatever tom fool thing is coming next, are just grist for the mill. That mill is our brand new Kitchen Aid, and we apparently bought the attachment that we might call the frenzy beater. It doesn’t much matter what we throw into that bowl anymore—the end result looks to be impeachments, trials and beheadings. These days we seem always to be baking our next loaf of Stupid Bread.

But our goal as Christians should be to stay detached from the frantic demand that everything be ramped up into a frantic crisis. I distinguish here a real crisis from a frantic crisis. These frantic crises are the handles on the hand basket in which we are all being carted off to the Bad Place. A real crisis must be dealt with, but setting your own hair on fire is not a good way of doing that.

So as a pastor, my goal for our people is that we would be enabled, by the grace of God, to remain a hotbed of cool customers.

If we want to model an alternative way of living in 2021, it will be at this place, in this way. No Christians should want to live unhinged, with his defense for doing so the fact that a bunch of other people, in some other place entirely, are also unhinged. This truth applies whether or not those other unhinged people started it, or appear to be getting away with it.

“When God will punish, he will first take away the understanding.”

George Herbert

And although the prophet Isaiah spoke the Word of the Lord to us, I simply want to cite him here as a poet of the first rank.

“Stay yourselves, and wonder;
Cry ye out, and cry:
They are drunken, but not with wine;
They stagger, but not with strong drink.
For the LORD hath poured out upon you
the spirit of deep sleep,
And hath closed your eyes:
The prophets and your rulers,
the seers hath he covered.”

Isaiah 29:9-10 (KJV)

Keeping Your Head

In short, we are in a bad way. That is an objective reality, and not the result of an unhinged analysis. But unhinged analysis is one of the ways we might certainly make everything worse. So one of the central things that the average Christian father and husband must do in order to protect his family is therefore the task of remaining calm and clear-headed. And in such a time as this, I want to provide you all with a little exhortation about keeping your wits about you, even for those days when it appears to you that nobody else is interested in doing that.

You have big decisions in front of you. Should you move your family? Should you keep your job? Should you resign your eldership? Should you leave your church? These are momentous issues, and absolutely every one of these dire situations can be made worse if they are augmented with panic or haste, or the demonization of anyone who differs in the slightest degree. So one of the good indicators that you are keeping your head is that you can grant, however crazy things have gotten, it is not the case that everyone is bonkers. It is not even the case that everyone who differs with your course of action is bonkers.

So consider this as a little exhortation in the spirit of Kipling’s great poem If.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

Kipling, If

Yeah, I know that Kipling was not orthodox. But that has me wondering why he was a bit wiser than most of our contemporary evangelical thought leaders. And while we are here, let me say that the phrase thought leader is like calling the baby sitter from next door a certified care giver. And remember that before we all lost our minds, we lost control of the dictionary. I think those two things are related.

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Kipling, If

Good Guys in Surprising Places

So one of the ways to keep your head is by recognizing, whatever position you take, that there are likely reasonable people on the other side, and kooks and bad guys on your side. A true mark of someone going off the deep end is that he believes anything that reinforces his narrative, and rejects anything that doesn’t.

Here is a model of the kind of demeanor I am commending— in this article David Bahnsen evaluates the Trump presidency, and he provides a model for how to do it. Even if you don’t agree with this or that, this is how you do it. And yesterday, when I tweeted my appreciation for this article, some of the responses I got illustrated the kind of arbitrary absolutism that I am urging us to stay away from. I obviously differ with David on whether the election was stolen, but he writes in such a way that makes it impossible to doubt his genuine conservatism. And there are people on my side of that particular question, who, if they are conservatives, then I’m a Hottentot.

And I do not wish the tumult of this last year to establish all my permanent alliances for me. That tumult has certainly shuffled the deck, but a time of political controversy is not a creed to live by.

In the civil strife that Israel went through before David was established as king throughout Israel, Abner was on the other side from David, and yet was a noble character. Joab was on David’s side, and he was a competent and hardhearted scoundrel. And before Abner was assassinated, when he was in the process of coming over to David’s side, he was not going to be just an average joe on David’s side now, but he was going to have a position of leadership there.

And Jonathan supported David against his father’s murderous designs, and yet Jonathan died fighting alongside his father. And then when Saul and Jonathan died, David composed a heartfelt lament for them (2 Sam. 1:17ff). “Tell it not in Gath.” While on the run from Saul, David had protected his heart from the mischief of bitterness in such a way that when his chief adversary died, he was able to call him “the beauty of Israel.”

Ahab was a wicked king, with Obadiah as his palace majordomo, and yet Obadiah feared the Lord greatly (1 Kings 18:3), using his influence to hide prophets from certain death. But I wonder how difficult it would have been for @TrollaSisters to make him look like a compromised and dithering apostate. Look at him there, serving in Ahab’s cabinet.

All of this is to say that palace intrigues can get kind of intriguey. Politics can be very complicated, but a certain kind of mind and heart is not complicated at all. It does not have the simplicity of heart of the early Christians (Acts 2:46), but is rather the kind of simple in Proverbs that must learn wisdom (Prov. 8:5). You might not know what is actually happening, and Scripture gives us many examples of this kind of story so that we might know what might be happening.

So Cool Your Baby Jets

I think of how Dabney and Hodge clashed in various ways, and yet I am honored to be associated with both of them. I think of Luther’s intemperance, with Calvin catching some of the brunt of that intemperance, in spite of which Calvin was enabled to honor him as a very great servant of God. I think of Whitefield’s attitude toward Wesley.

This kind of thing seems like an incoherence to the carnal mind. When our feelings run hot, all we want to do is to get them to run hotter. And we want everything in our heads to be at the same temperature. That is what it means to see red. It is what causes us to see red, and do wrong.

“And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.”

2 Samuel 19:43 (KJV)

From this distance, I think that the men of Judah were in the right, at least on the merits. But I think something else was going on, and I think they missed it there.

None of this is relativism. You still have to set a direction for your family. You still have to come to conclusions. The truth is whatever it is, and does not bend to accommodate all your previous connections, friendships, and alliances. You still have to make decisions, and you will still make some people very unhappy when you do. But you will be making those decisions like a responsible adult, and not like a nutcase.

These are complicated and tumultuous times. That means that God has assigned to you the task of living like a Christian in these complicated and tumultuous times. And in such times, some thing must be adjusted, while other things must never be adjusted.

All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

Kipling, The Gods of the Copybook Headings