Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three anniversaries

2014 is a year of some significant anniversaries, both in our own country and across the world at large. We mention three for the purpose of reminding ourselves of some important biblical principles.

World War I---July, 1914-November, 1918
One hundred years ago, some thirty nations began to engage in "the war to end all wars" (exact source of this quote uncertain). Regardless, there was a feeling among at least some at the time that a global conflict could be engaged in that was so horrific, mankind would never again want to engage in such. But someone forgot to tell Tojo of Japan, Hitler of Germany, and Mussolini of Italy and two decades after the end of one global conflict, the world was engaged in yet another one, World War II. If only John Lennon had been around to sing "Imagine" and "Give peace a chance". Or better yet, if Ben and Jerry had been able to market their "Imagine Whirled Peace" ice cream (intended to "make you ask what you can do to promote peace in our lives") perhaps six million Jews would never have been slaughtered.

It is infantile and naïve at best to think we can put our collective thoughts together and "give peace a chance" if we only "imagine" that we can have world peace. Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain tried a modified version of this in 1938 and we all know how well that turned out (check history books).

But this is not about political and/or social policy. There are some biblical principles that should lead Bible believers to reject such utopian, unrealistic nonsense and not get caught up in political or social movements that have "end all war" as their goal.

A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecc. 3:8) There is a tacit acknowledgement in this verse that war is simply a part of earthly existence. That’s not cynicism, it is realism. As we can expect to experience the other things mentioned in this context (vss. 1-8), it is to be expected that war also is a part of life. If we can undertake to eliminate war, we might as well seek to eliminate the other things that Solomon mentions. Should we do all we can to prevent armed conflict? Certainly. But no human efforts, either individually or collectively, will ever totally remove the blight of war from the world landscape.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom. 12:18) Though we are to strive to live in a peaceful manner with all, Paul recognizes this will not always be possible. If this is true in individual relationships, how much more will it be the case in national affairs? Just as some men and women are determined to be belligerent and aggressive and force themselves on others, so it is among nations. When this occurs, conflict on some level is inevitable. Although attributed to him, Plato did not say "only the dead have seen the end of war" but whoever made the statement certainly spoke the truth and acknowledged what the Bible reveals.

Fifty years ago, two pieces of landmark legislation were passed in the United States Congress which are being discussed in this their golden anniversary year and either celebrated by their supporters or condemned by their opponents. It is not our intent to debate the divergent political and social philosophies that caused some to support and others to object to these laws. As with the matter of war, there are some biblical principles that should cause Christians---regardless of political ideology---to do some sober reflection in regard to the problems that these laws were intended to address.

Civil Rights Act of 1964---July, 1964
President Lyndon Johnson, in explaining the ultimate goals of this legislation said, "This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us…to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country."

War on Poverty---August, 1964
President Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union address declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America" and then went on to declare that "we shall not rest until that war is won."

Several passages from Ecclesiastes bear upon these two concerns of poverty and injustice and should shape our attitude toward them and efforts to deal with them. The following texts teach us two very fundamental principles that most of us should have learned about the time we left kindergarten for first grade:

Life is sometimes unfair
I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness…There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility…Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickednessIf you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; (Eccl. 7:15; 8:14; 3:16; 5:8)

There is nothing that men can do to make life fair
What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted…Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? (Eccl. 1:5; 7:13)

Serious Bible students realize the futility of eliminating injustice or of not resting until poverty is gone. This is obviously not to say that poverty and injustice should not concern us. Nor are we suggesting that we should not do what we can to address these problems as we have opportunity. But we are saying that poverty and injustice are, like war, a part of life on this earth and no "war on poverty" will eliminate that problem and no legislation will ever be able to totally eradicate injustice.

Jesus urged treating the poor and those with physical problems with sensitivity (Matt. 19:21; Lk. 14:12-14) but at the same time reminded His followers that poverty was something (like disease) that will always be a part of the human condition (Matt. 26:11; Mk. 14:7; Jo. 12:8)
If I live my life around some "cause" or social movement that is intended to "right" all the "wrongs" in society, I will be a very frustrated and unhappy person. Solomon’s advice regarding my attitude toward all social ills and inequities was Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. (Eccl. 9:8) Learn to be happy. Realize that material problems are not those which matter most. Focus on the spiritual and the life that lies beyond this one.

Whoever the social/political activists are that lead an "elimination of war" movement they are among the greatest of fools. And any politician of whichever political party who tells you that laws can be passed to ensure the end of poverty on the one hand and the cessation of discrimination based upon gender, age or ethnicity on the other hand is either extremely ignorant and naïve or lying for the purpose of gaining enough votes to be reelected. You decide which. No one with faith in what God says can seriously believe that anything can be done to totally eliminate these evils from our lives.

The more we become familiar with biblical principles and allow them to shape our thinking the better off we and our country will be. On the anniversary of these life-changing events, allow divine teaching to lead us from the humanistic thinking that men can answer all questions and solve all problems. Our conclusion should be that of Jeremiah the prophet: I know, O Lord, that a man's way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps. David Smitherman